LOWELL -- A recent UMass Lowell poll found that Americans are willing to allow their support of basic constitutional rights to be swayed when partisan politics are involved.
UMass Lowell Professor Joshua Dyck, who is the co-director of the Center for Public Opinion, said the timing was right for this poll to be conducted at this time.
"I think these discussions are happening right now because we have someone in the Oval Office who doesn't adhere to norms really well," Dyck said. "We've had a lot of conversation, given his war with the press, about freedom of the press. We've had a lot of conversation about protests and rallies, both on the right and the left."
The poll, released Thursday by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion, found that, of the 1,000 Americans surveyed, most believed in basic American rights. Seventy-eight percent reported that they support freedom of speech, 75 percent supported that the media should have the ability to report news without government censorship, and 89 percent said a person's political views should not impact their right to legal protection. Dyck said he was surprised by these results because typically results show 90 percent or higher support these rights.
But when specific examples of freedom of speech, assembly and the press conflicted with the respondents' political views, poll results showed that their support of these rights were swayed.
Respondents were also asked about the independent judicial branch of government.
For example, 73 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans said they supported a group's right to assembly, even if some participants chanted derogatory terms. When the question specifically asked this of the Black Lives Matter movement, support increased to 83 percent among Democrats and dropped to 49 percent among Republicans.
When asked if a controversial figure should be allowed to speak at a college campus, 53 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Democrats were in support. When Ann Coulter was used an example, Republican support increased to 72 percent and Democratic support dropped to 44 percent. Alternatively, Republican support dropped to 50 percent when Michael Moore was brought into the question and Democratic support increased to 59 percent.
UMass Lowell senior Patrick Martin was one of the political science majors to write the questionnaire used for the poll, as part of the university's Survey Research course. Martin said he expected those polled to be influenced by their political beliefs.
"What surprised me was such a low portion of each party thought the opposing party would not support the different principles," Martin said. "It's one thing if two parties adamantly disagree on policy, but we actually view each other like if we let these people win our democracy is at stake."
For example, the poll found that only 41 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Democrats believed the opposing party would not defend the freedom of speech.
In working on this poll, Martin said he got to reflect on his own biases, saying that he realized when it's convenient, it is easy to support something, but when it is inconvenient, it becomes easier to ignore. He hopes the poll will allow people to recognize their own behavior in their political opponents before reacting.
"This is just one snapshot in time, but we have been in a pretty toxic partisan atmosphere for some time," Dyck said. "People aren't seeing each other as opposition, they're seeing each other as threats. When that starts to happen, the things that cohere us, the things that we believe in, start to fray.
"I find the results of this poll not entirely surprising, but quite troubling," he added.
Data for the poll was collected from June 27 through July 6. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percent.