National

What Does the Constitution Mean to Americans?

Race, Economics Weigh Heavily on Interpretations

With Constitutional rights and issues dominating the current news cycle, and public debates about those rights being challenged or interpreted in multiple ways, James Madison’s Montpelier has released new data about how Americans relate to, perceive and understand the U.S. Constitution.

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 citizens 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 perceptions and priorities relating to the Constitution, bringing to life the significance of race and economic status when it comes to Americans’ understanding of, and relationship with, the Constitution.

An overwhelming number, 80 percent, are concerned about their Constitutional rights being diluted or taken away while 76 percent of Americans believe their rights are not as secure and stable today as they were in the past.

Kat Imhoff, president and CEO of James Madison’s Montpelier said, “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 … 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.”

Listed below are selected findings that reveal key themes about how Americans value the Constitution and believe it protects them, the issues that matter most, as well as opinions around amendments.

Differences Across Ethnic, Socioeconomic Demographics

African Americans (38 percent) are more likely than whites (26 percent) to say they think about their rights frequently or very frequently.

Those 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 believe 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

Ninety 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 believe that gun rights/gun control is the most important issue, followed by civil rights (41 percent).

Forty-one percent of Americans said the Constitution should be amended at least occasionally; 33 percent said the Constitution should be amended at all.

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 percent 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 and 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,” said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, author and history professor at The Ohio State University.

Visit montpelier.org/learn/national-survey-results or montpelier.org for more information and the complete findings.

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