With Constitutional rights and issues dominating the current news cycle, and public debates about those rights being challenged or open to interpretation, American history museum James Madison’s Montpelier released new data about how Americans relate to, perceive and understand the Constitution.
In this first piece of what will be recurring research, Montpelier found an overwhelming number (80 percent) of Americans, are concerned about their Constitutional rights being diluted or taken away, and 76 percent of Americans believe their rights are not as secure and stable today as they were in the past.
The nationally-representative survey of 2,500 Americans examined various perceptions of the Constitution and its role in their everyday lives, as well as the Constitutional issues Americans find most important to them personally, and to the nation as a whole. The study also assessed how factors such as age, race/ethnicity and other demographics impact Americans’ perceptions and priorities relating to the Constitution.
“James Madison’s Montpelier is more than just the home of one of America’s Founding Fathers—it is a museum of American history and a center for constitutional education that engages the public and connects the past to the present through the enduring legacy of Madison’s most powerful idea: government by the people,” said Kat Imhoff, president and CEO of James Madison’s Montpelier, in a news release. “It is our responsibility as an organization to highlight this information on a regular basis and to lead the debate and discussion about the document that framed our democracy. Montpelier plays an active role in leading the conversation about how we, as people, can ensure that everyone in American society can realize the full promise of human freedom outlined in the Constitution.”
The findings from the study revealed key themes about how Americans value the Constitution and believe it protects them, the issues that matter most, as well as opinions around amendments. Topline findings included:
Protection and value:
- Many Americans (76 percent) believe their rights are not as secure and stable today as they were in the past—and this sentiment is shared across all demographics.
- 91 percent of Americans say the Constitution is important to them and protects their rights. However, 73 percent of Americans infrequently or never think about their rights, unless they’re in an educational setting or confronted with legal issues.
- 85 percent of respondents believe Americans take their Constitutional rights for granted.
Differences across ethnic and socioeconomic demographics:
- African-Americans (38 percent) are more likely than whites (26 percent) to say they think about their rights frequently or very frequently.
- Americans with $150k+ income (90 percent) are more likely than those with under $25k income (66 percent) to believe that their rights are regularly upheld and respected.
- More than 65 percent of Americans believe that ethnic minorities and women do not always experience the constitutional rights to which they are entitled.
- African-Americans (62 percent) and Hispanics (45 percent) are far more likely than whites (36 percent) to believe that civil rights is the most important Constitutional issue to the nation.
The issues that matter most:
- 90 percent or more of Americans say civil rights, data privacy, voting rights and freedom of the press are personally important to them (ahead of gun rights and abortion).
- However, when it comes to Constitutional issues impacting the nation, 53 percent of Americans believe that gun rights/gun control is the most important issue, followed by civil rights (41 percent).
Amending the Constitution:
- 41 percent of Americans said the Constitution should be amended at least occasionally, and only 33 percent of Americans said they didn’t feel the Constitution should be amended at all.
- When it comes to adjusting the document for certain issues, for those who are open to amending the Constitution, 61 percent say there should be more restrictions on gun ownership, 45 percent say there should be greater gender equality and 42 percent say there should be more clarity on privacy rights and data privacy protections.
- When it comes to amendments Americans want to add, 54% of Americans say there should be one outlining the right to privacy, 53 percent say there should be one outlining gender equality and 73 percent say access to clean air and water should be considered a civil right.
“These findings bring to life the significance of race and economic status when it comes to Americans’ understanding of, and relationship with, the Constitution,” said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, author and history professor at The Ohio State University, in the release. “While more people enjoy Constitutional guarantees today than ever before, this research demonstrates that full equality under the law remains elusive, and there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to ensuring all Americans feel secure and protected under the Constitution.”
This recurring piece of research will be used as a guide to inform the way Montpelier will continue to engage the public through a variety of relevant forums, programs and initiatives. Current programming Montpelier offers to educate and engage people about the Constitution includes Constitution 101, which covers background about the nation’s founding document and how it is being interpreted and applied to the lives of Americans every day. Montpelier’s Center for the Constitution also offers various customized trainings to police officers, lawyers, teachers and other groups. Lastly, Montpelier’s exhibition, The Mere Distinction of Colour, which opened last summer, examines the history of our Constitution and slavery during the Founding Era, and how civil and human rights have since evolved.