The First Amendment is the beating heart of the American experiment. But how many Americans regularly exercise it?
A poll from Gallup this year shows that only about a third of Americans have ever felt the urge to use their right of peaceful assembly. More interesting: the poll shows some clear partisan differences in the way Americans use their ability to freely protest:
A little over a third of Americans, 36%, say they have “ever felt the urge to organize or participate in a public demonstration about something.” But the rate is much higher among Democrats and self-described liberals, college graduates, and women than their counterparts.
The demographic differences seen on this question are interrelated, but the biggest differences in reported desire to protest — approaching 40 percentage points — are by education and political ideology. Sixty percent of self-described liberals versus 21% of conservatives say they have had the urge to demonstrate something, reflecting underlying approaches to society built into those two ideologies. For example, in June 2008, Gallup asked Americans how much protesting an issue that an individual personally opposed was a demonstration of patriotism. Among liberals, 74% said protesting demonstrated “a great deal” or “a moderate amount” compared with 58% of conservatives who said the same.
The latest data come from an Aug. 1-12 Gallup survey, conducted as protests for a variety of issues including Black Lives Matter, the “Me Too” movement and others have become seemingly commonplace in recent years. Gallup last asked this question in October 1965, in the midst of the civil rights movement but just as protests opposing the escalating Vietnam War were beginning to become more common. At that time, 10% of Americans reported they had had the urge to protest.
Unlike today, in 1965, there was little difference between U.S. partisan groups in response to this question, with 9% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans saying they ever had the urge to demonstrate.