2021 National Poll on Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the U.S.

Americans Support Strengthening U.S. Civil Rights Laws 

A national survey of American attitudes toward rights and responsibilities in the United States finds that large majorities now favor strengthening the nation’s civil rights laws, despite continuing partisan division.

Following an earlier poll conducted in July 2020 in which majorities agreed that rights in the U.S. face “serious threats” and are not “secure”, the new poll examines in detail American attitudes on civil rights issues in which rights are threatened, including voting rights, police reform, racial discrimination, equal opportunity, access to the basic necessities of life such as health care and housing, and social media regulation. 

After a year marked by the COVID pandemic, economic hardship, racial reckoning, political division and the attack on the US Capitol, an overwhelming bipartisan majority (95%) of Americans say “it is the responsibility of government to protect the lives, livelihoods and rights of all Americans.”  93% are “fed up with polarization” and “politicians who are intentionally dividing our country, and 96% believe that “Americans have a responsibility to respect the rights of others.”  Despite polarization, the pandemic year seems to have brought many Americans closer together.  In the July 2020 poll, 71% expressed the view that “Americans have more in common than many people think.”  By May 2021 that view had increased to 88%. 

The poll was commissioned by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and is part of a Carr Center initiative, Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, that is analyzing the condition of rights in the United States and the attitudes of Americans toward their rights and responsibilities as citizens and the responsibility of government for protecting and enforcing civil rights.

The Reimagining Rights project is directed by John Shattuck, Carr Center Senior Fellow and former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  The project is overseen by a faculty committee chaired by Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse, with the participation of Executive Director Sushma Raman, and the support of the Carr Center staff.  The nationwide poll of 2000 adults was conducted by NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, between May 10-20, 2021.  The margin of error for the study is +/-3.03%.


Key Takeaways:

1. Large majorities of Americans, with varying degrees of partisan support, favor improvements in the electoral process to protect the right to vote, encourage voting, and reduce voting restrictions, despite the campaign in Republican-majority state legislatures to enact new voting restrictions.  

  • 91% agree that “voting access for disabled voters should be improved” – 97% Dem, 91% Ind, 69% Rep;

  • 84% agree that “early voting should be equally available in every state” – 94% Dem, 80% Ind, 55% Rep;

  • 87% agree that “America should have national standards for voting and elections” – 93% Dem, 89% Ind, 80% Rep;

  • 84% agree that “the US Justice Department should review new state or local voting regulations to ensure they do not discriminate against voters based on race” – 96% Dem, 89% Ind, 67% Rep;

  • 80% agree that “independent state commissions should determine the map of legislative districts to prevent partisan gerrymandering” – 88% Dem, 79% Ind, 70% Rep;


  • 70% agree that “the U.S. should establish automatic voter registration of all American citizens” – 91% Dem, 70% Ind, 45% Rep;
  • 67% agree that “every state should allow people to vote by mail” – 91% Dem, 74% Ind, 37% Rep.


2. Reforming police practices to protect citizen rights and promote public safety is favored by large bipartisan majorities, with varying levels of majority Republican support.

  • 94% agree that “police should be accountable for violent or unlawful behavior” – 97% Dem, 96% Ind, 91% Rep;
  • 89% agree that “complaints about police misconduct should be submitted to an independent review board” – 95% Dem, 88% Ind, 82% Rep;

  • 85% agree that “police departments should implement transparent guidelines on when and how to use force” – 94% Dem, 85% Ind, 73% Rep;

  • 78% agree that “Americans should have a right to sue police officers for violations of their civil rights” – 90% Dem, 85% Ind, 60% Rep;

Takeaway 2

3. Bipartisan majorities support strengthening civil rights protections against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity; and government investment in communities of color that have been denied equality and economic opportunity by previous federal policies. 

  • 81% agree that “the laws against racial discrimination in housing and employment should be strengthened” – 93% Dem, 89% Ind, 64% Rep;
  • 88% agree that “the government should strengthen the protection of people with disabilities against employment and workplace discrimination” – 96% Dem, 89% Ind, 76% Rep;
  • 91% agree that “government has a responsibility to prevent hate crimes and punish people who commit them” – 96% Dem, 84% Ind, 91% Rep;
  • 89% agree that “laws against sexual violence and harassment should be strengthened” – 77% Dem, 65% Ind, 48% Rep; 
  • 77% agree that “laws should be strengthened to protect people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity” – 94% Dem, 84% Ind, 53% Rep;
  • 78% agree that “the federal government should support community development investment in African American, Native American and Hispanic communities that have historically been denied equality and economic opportunity as a result of federal policy” – 95% Dem, 78% Ind, 59% Rep.

takeaway 3

4. On some rights issues where political and ideological conflicts are especially intense, such as gun rights and reproductive rights, bipartisan majorities, but with fewer Republicans, support gun regulation to protect public safety and a woman’s right to choose and make decisions affecting her body and personal life.  On other highly contested issues such as religious rights versus the right to nondiscrimination, opinions are closely divided.


  • On gun rights, 69% agree that the right to bear arms does not prevent regulating gun safety, ownership and sales” – 83% Dem, 69% Ind, 52% Rep;
  • 67% agree that “assault weapons should be made illegal” – 89% Dem, 60% Ind, 44% Rep. 
  • On reproductive rights, 72% agree that “a woman’s ability to choose and make decisions affecting her body and personal life should be protected” – 85% Dem,72% Ind, 55% Rep.
  • On religious rights, there's a close split where just 53% agree “peoples’ religious practices should be protected even if they discriminate against women and gay people.” – 42% Dem, 51% Ind, 69% Rep – while 45% disagree.

5. Big bipartisan majorities believe that Americans should have a right of equal opportunity and access to “basic necessities of life” including a job, health care, education, housing, and protection from environmental hazards.

  • 92% agree that Americans “should have a right to the basic necessities of life” – 97% Dem, 78% Ind, 84% Rep;
  • 89% agree “people in the United States should have a right to quality education” – 95% Dem, 96% Ind, 78% Rep;
  • 84% agree “before America can be truly united, we need to give equal opportunity to the ‘have’s” and the ‘have not’s’” – 94% Dem, 90% Ind, 70% Rep.
  • 80% agree it is the responsibility of the federal government to implement these rights, for example by “guaranteeing equal access for all Americans to decent housing” – 91% Dem, 87% Ind, 63% Rep;

6. The pandemic stimulated support for government action to “protect the lives, livelihoods and rights of all Americans,” with varying levels of partisan division. 

  • 85% agree the pandemic has demonstrated “the need for universal access to health care for all Americans” – 96% Dem, 85% Ind, 47% Rep.
  • 72% call for “more government support for public education” – 92% Dem, 76% Ind, 46% Rep.
  • 70% for “more government support for affordable housing” – 91% Dem, 80% Ind, 41% Rep.
  • 71% for “more government support for fair employment” – 92% Dem, 74% Ind, 43% Rep.

7. Americans are deeply concerned about social media companies amplifying disinformation and collecting personal data.

  • 91% of Americans agree that “disinformation is a threat to our democracy” – 94% Dem, 90% Ind, 88% Rep;
  •  81% agree that “social media companies should be required to prevent the spread of disinformation” – 93% Dem, 79% Ind, 69% Rep;
  • 95% agree that “social media companies should be required to protect the privacy of personal information” – 95% Dem, 97% Ind, 93% Rep;
  • 94% agree “there should be a law preventing social media companies from collecting and using personal data without the explicit consent of the data subjects” – 94% Dem, 92% Ind, 94% Rep.

8. Events over the past year – including the pandemic and racial concerns and protests – have caused Americans to think more positively toward other Americans, particularly racial minorities and people of color.

  • A 77% majority agrees that “events over the past year have caused me to feel more positively toward Native Americans” – 89% Dem, 71% Ind, 67% Rep),
  •  “Asian Americans” (76%) – 88% Dem, 71% Ind, 63% Rep,
  • “Latino Americans” (75%) – 88% Dem, 67% Ind, 64% Rep,
  • “Black Americans” (71%) – 89% Dem, 67% Ind, 52% Rep,
  • “Americans of different races from my own” (75%) – 88% Dem, 70% Ind, 63% Rep,
  • “Immigrants” (63%) – 82% Dem, 61% Ind, 41% Rep,
  • “other Americans” (62%) – 61% Dem, 64% Ind, 62% Rep.


*All statements noting participants "agree" include aggregations of those who both "agree" and "somewhat agree," and similarly those who "disagree" encompass both respondents who "disagree" and "somewhat disagree"