A survey by the American Bar Association shows most Americans are protective over their free-speech rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, but more than half support suspending the right of freedom of assembly during the present emergency.
For the second year, the ABA released its annual Survey of Civic Literacy on Law Day, a national day celebrating the role of law in American society.
The survey was initially taken by phone from March 9-13, just before the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive disruptions to daily life across the country. An update with questions relevant to a pandemic was conducted April 7-11 by DAPA Research, according to the report.
In the national study, 71 percent of respondents correctly identified governors as the officials responsible for issuing statewide stay-at-home orders. The other response options: the president (18%), vice president (0.25%), the director of the White House Coronavirus Task Force (4%), Congress (3%) and Undecided (4%.)
The April survey also asked whether the government should be able to suspend First Amendment rights during “a serious national emergency such as the current pandemic.”
Regarding freedom of speech, 92% said no. And 87% said the government should not interfere with the freedom of the press.
But the country is softer on freedom of assembly. There, 54% of respondents said the right should be suspended during an emergency; 42% said no, and 5% had no opinion.
In both the original and follow-up surveys, the ABA polled about online voting in U.S. elections. In March, 34% of those surveyed supported online voting. By April — after controversy erupted over in-person voting during Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order — the support shot up to 55% in favor.
At the same time, support for early voting dipped slightly between the two studies. In March, 78% of respondents supported it, while 72% indicated support in April.
“The ABA’s Survey of Civic Literacy gauges people’s knowledge of the [c]onstitution and explores Americans’ opinions on some of the greatest challenges to the sustainability of our democracy — denials of voting rights and affronts to women’s rights,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said in a press release issued Friday. “The survey highlights the need for all Americans to be knowledgeable about their rights and engaged in our democratic process.”
Martinez is of counsel at Simon Peragine Smith & Redfearn LLP in New Orleans.
The survey can be found at ambar.org/civicsurvey.