Research Impacts - Polls

Time/Abt SRBI Poll: Constitution Withstands Test of Time

Release Date: 6/23/2011

Most Agree US Constitution Withstands Test of Time

By Seth Brohinsky and Mark Schulman, Abt SRBI

After over 200 years of history, a civil war, the current stand-off between the White House and Congress, and numerous controversial Supreme Court decisions, almost 2 in 3 Americans (64%) still believe that the Constitution has held up well, according to a new Time Magazine poll.

The national poll, conducted June 20 – 21, also finds that only 30% of Americans favor a new Constitutional convention to update the document. The poll focused on public views of the Constitution, the Supreme Court, and various highly-charged legal issues facing the Court.

  • Two in five (40%) Democrats believe a new constitutional convention should be held, compared to just 27% of Independents and 18% of Republicans.
  • More young people (41%) support the new constitutional convention than middle aged (28%) or older Americans (21%).

Gender and Race Gaps in Court Approval Rating

Less than a majority of Americans approve (47%) of the job the Supreme Court is doing, while 34% disapprove. Almost 1 in 5 are undecided, probably an indication that the “third branch of government” is much less visible than the President or Congress. Only 15% of Americans say they follow the Court’s major rulings "very closely."

By contrast, President Obama’s approval rating is 48% approve – 46% disapprove, with only 6% undecided. Only 21% approve of the job Congress is doing, with 72% disapproving. Only 8% are undecided about Congress.

Job Approval Table

  In general, do you approve or disapprove of the way President Obama/Congress/the Supreme Court are handling their job?
  President Obama Congress Supreme Court
Approve 48% 21% 47%
Disapprove 46% 72% 34%
Don't know 6% 8% 19%

The biggest approval gap is between men and women:

  • 53% of males approve of the Court’s work, compared to 41% of women
  • 48% of whites approve the Court’s work, with only 39% of Blacks approving.

Americans Divided on Court’s Tilt

The public is split on the direction of the Court’s opinions.

  • 36% say the Court’s decisions are "about right."
  • 30% believe the Court’s opinions are "too liberal."
  • 24% say "too conservative."

Views of the Court follow party lines. Among Democrats, 42% say the Court’s decisions are "too conservative." Among Republicans, 48% say the Court’s decisions are "too liberal."

Supreme Court Decision Table

  Would you say that the Supreme Court decisions over the past few years have been:
  Total Republican Democrat Independent
Too Conservative 24% 8% 42% 21%
Too Liberal 30% 48% 15% 32%
About Right 36% 38% 34% 37%
Don't know 10% 6% 9% 11%

Strict Constructionist or Flexible Interpretation

A recurrent debate has flared up once again on how the Court should interpret the Constitution – adhere to exactly what’s spelled out in the Constitution, or be flexible, taking into account changes in society, technology, or America’s place in the world. A narrow majority, 54%, favors flexibility, while 41% favor strict constructionism.

Again, opinions split by party:

  • 62% of Republicans are "strict constructionists"
  • 67% of Democrats favor "flexibility."
  • Independents favor a flexible approach, 58% - 40%.
  • Americans continue to support the constitutional right of women to terminate a pregnancy in the first few months of pregnancy. Two thirds (64%) either strongly (45%) or somewhat (19%) agree with a woman’s right to chose.
    • Democrats (75%) and Independents (65%), more so than Republicans (47%), supported a women’s right to choose.

Looking to the future, there are several important cases that may come before Congress and eventually the Supreme Court. On the issue of immigration, some argue the 14th Amendment encourages illegal immigration by granting any child born in the US automatic citizenship.

  • Most Americans (62%) support the 14th Amendment provision, feeling the illegal immigration issue is a minor problem and the Constitution should not be amended for this reason alone.

Privacy vs. Security: Slim Support For 4th Amendment Search And Seizure Provisions

The 4th Amendment protects Americans from unwarranted searches and seizure; thus limiting the government’s ability to intercept email and phone calls to protect against a terrorist attack. Americans are clearly divided on whether the government should be permitted to search without a warrant to combat terrorism.

  • 45% believe search and seizure without a warrant should be permitted, while 52% disagree.
    • A majority (53%) of Republicans support the search and seizures without a warrant.
    • Majorities of both Democrats (57%) and Independents (56%) are against the idea.
  • When made more personal by asking, “If the government was intercepting emails from millions of Americans, including your own, without a warrant” disapprovals jump by 5 points to 57%.
    • A majority (51%) of Republicans continue to support the seizures, far fewer Democrats (34%) and Independents (37%) feel the same.

Many View Government Policies as Exceeding Constitutional Authority

Since Congress passed the Healthcare Bill last year, debate over the law has raged. Ignoring arguments on the bill’s effectiveness or outcomes, much of the disagreement has centered on whether or not the bill is even constitutional. Many have argued a federal mandate requiring most Americans who do not have health insurance to purchase it oversteps the authority of the federal government. And it appears most Americans agree. The poll finds 56% of Americans believe the Healthcare Bill is unconstitutional, while just 38% view it as constitutional.

While there is a clear split between Republican (77% view the bill as unconstitutional) and Democratic opinions (58% view the bill as constitutional), Independents, the most politically important segment of the population, largely view the bill as unconstitutional (61% vs. 32%). Additionally, more than one-third (35%) of Democrats view the bill as unconstitutional.

  • More men than view the bill as unconstitutional (61% vs. 51%)
  • More older people (55+) believe the bill is unconstitutional than do young people 18-34 (60% vs. 49%).

Slim Plurality: Obama Overstepped Authority in Libya

Most Americans believe the Obama administration overstepped its constitutional authority by committing to US military involvement in Libya without Congressional approval. A slim plurality (50% - 44%) believe the President does not have the constitutional authority to order military involvement in Libya without first seeking Congressional approval “even if American troops are not in harms way” in Libya.

A majority (53%) of Independents and nearly two thirds (64%) of Republicans believe that President Obama exceeded his constitutional authority in Libya, while 36% of Democrats concur.

Gun Control

Historically, Americans are sensitive to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. However, with the recent developments in Arizona and the shooting of Representative Giffords, gun control laws have again become a political hot topic. Americans generally agree that state and local governments should not be allowed to ban handguns or concealed weapons.

Most Americans agree (60% - 38%) with the following statement:

"To protect the constitutional rights of gun owners, state and local governments are not allowed to ban handguns and concealed weapons, even in high crime areas."

Republicans (76%) and Independents (65%), more so than Democrats (44%), supported the rights of gun owners.

While Americans agree it is not the jurisdiction of state and local governments to ban handguns, a majority (51%) do believe that gun control laws should be more strict than they are now. This includes…

  • 74% of Democrats
  • 60% of females
  • 56% of those 55 years and older
  • 55% of non-Evangelicals

While 39% of Americans believe current gun control laws are about right, just 7% believe gun laws should be less strict.

Gun Control Laws More Strict?

Overall, do you think that gun control laws in this country should be…
  Total Republican Democrat Independent Male Female
More strict 51% 28% 74% 46% 41% 60%
Less strict 7% 11% 3% 10% 12% 3%
About Right 39% 58% 22% 42% 45% 34%
Don't know 2% 3% 2% 2% 3% 2%

Support Semi-Automatic Weapons Ban

Despite the ideological differences that exist in the US, a majority agree that the federal government should ban the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons. Nearly two thirds (62%) agree that the federal government should ban the sale of these types of guns. There is even general agreement among political rivals…

  • 73% of Democrats, 61% of Independents, and 49% of Republicans agree that semi-automatic weapons should be banned.
    • Though 46% of Republicans believe they should not be banned to protect the rights of gun owners.


Abt SRBI Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing.

This Time Magazine poll was conducted by telephone June 20 – 21, 2011 among a national random sample of 1,003 Americans, ages 18 and older, throughout America The poll includes limited interviews with cell phone respondents.

The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 3 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error, and respondent error.

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