The Clash between Security and Liberty in the U.S. Response to Terror


  • Carol W. Lewis

    1. Carol W. Lewis is a professor of political science and public administration at the University of Connecticut. She is the author of scholarly works published in Public Administration Review, Urban Affairs Quarterly, Municipal Finance Journal, and other journals, as well as The Ethics Challenge in Public Service: A Problem-Solving Guide (Jossey-Bass, 1991). She holds a doctorate from Princeton University. E-mail:
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    • With the assistance of Jennifer B. Tomasello.

  • Jennifer B. Tomasello provided research assistance as a graduate student in the master of public administration program at the University of Connecticut.


This study examines U.S. public opinion on civil liberties and security in response to the politically pivotal events of September 11, 2001—what shape it is in, what shapes it, and what it shapes. Public opinion is a critical restraint on political and administrative action today because so many regulators, rule makers, and law enforcers are making decisions or advocating policies that directly affect the balance between liberty and security. The general importance that is popularly attributed to terrorism is gauged by its ranking among the most important problems. The ostensibly contradictory public attitudes toward civil liberties are analyzed, as is the supposed inconsistency between perceived personal impact and the general significance attributed to the attacks. The data rebut the allegation that the public is readily disposed to restrict civil liberties as the price of security. Findings show the public does not perceive a personal or immediate threat to civil liberties. The implications for further research and good governance are laid out.