Congress

Public Support for Constitutional Amendment on Flag Burning

Amendment appeals more to Republicans than Democrats

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The Senate has rejected a proposal for amending the U.S. Constitution to allow Congress to ban burning or desecrating the American flag. This proposal would have essentially reversed a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found flag burning to be a political statement protected under the First Amendment and would give Congress the power to enact laws prohibiting desecration of the flag.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted June 23-25, finds that a majority of Americans support a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and state governments to make it illegal to burn the Americans flag, though support is not overwhelming. Public support is lower for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit burning or desecrating the flag outright. Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to support an amendment banning flag burning.

Amendment to Prohibit Flag Burning

The poll asked Americans two questions about a constitutional amendment that would make it illegal to burn or desecrate the American flag.

One half of the randomly selected respondents in the survey were asked this Gallup trend question:

Do you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and state governments to make it illegal to burn the American flag?

The other half of respondents were asked:

Some people feel that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to make it illegal to burn or desecrate the American flag as a form of political dissent. Others say that the U.S. Constitution should not be amended to specifically prohibit flag burning or desecration. Do you think the U.S. Constitution should or should not be amended to prohibit burning or desecrating the American flag?

The results to the first question, which is more in line with the recent Senate proposal that would have granted Congress the power to decide whether flag burning is legal or illegal, finds a majority of Americans, 56%, supporting the constitutional amendment and 41% opposing such an amendment. While a majority, it does not rise to the level one would expect when discussing an amendment to the constitution, something that requires two-thirds support in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states' legislatures.

These results are essentially the same as what Gallup measured last June. However, support for a constitutional amendment was somewhat higher in the 1990s, at 62% in 1995, and 63% in 1999. In 1989 and 1990, Gallup asked two similar questions about a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning, and at that time, support ranged between 65% and 71%.

The poll also asked how upset those who favor the amendment in the first question would be if it is not passed, and how upset those who oppose the amendment would be if it is passed.

The results suggest that opinions are more strongly held among those who favor the amendment than among those who oppose it. Forty percent of Americans both support the amendment and would be upset it if is not passed, suggesting they hold their views strongly and their opinion is essentially a mandate of what the government should do. On the opposite side of the spectrum, 20% say they oppose the amendment and also would be upset if it is passed. Roughly 4 in 10 Americans do not have a strong opinion on this matter, with 16% favoring the amendment but saying they would not be upset if it was not passed and 21% opposing it but saying they would not be upset if it did pass (and another 3% do not have an opinion on the basic amendment). These people, even if they express an opinion for or against the amendment, would tend to go along with whatever the government decided, in this case, to not pass an amendment.

The results to the second question, which stresses the amendment would completely outlaw burning or desecrating the American flag, finds lower levels of public support. Forty-five percent of Americans say the U.S. Constitution should be amended to prohibit burning or desecrating the flag, while a majority, 54%, says it should not be amended in this way. Support on this question may also be lower because it raises a specific reason to not support the amendment -- that is, the notion that it would outlaw a form of political dissent.

Political Attitudes and Flag Burning

On both measures, Republicans are more likely than independents or Democrats to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to make flag burning illegal in this country.

Sixty-seven percent of Republicans (including independents who lean to the Republican party) support a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to decide whether or not to outlaw flag burning. This compares with 49% of Democrats (including Democratic-leaning independents) who share this point of view.

Similarly, 51% of Republicans (including "leaners") support amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the burning or desecrating of the Americans flag. This percentage is lower among Democrats (including "leaners"), at 39%.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 23-25, 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the 484 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 516 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

26. Do you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and state governments to make it illegal to burn the American flag?

BASED ON 484 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

Favor

Oppose

No
opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jun 23-25

56

41

3

2005 Jun 24-26

55

42

3

1999 Jun 25-27

63

35

2

1995 Jul 7-9

62

36

3

Trends for Comparison

Do you think we should pass a constitutional amendment to make flag burning illegal, or not?

Favor

Oppose

No
opinion

%

%

%

1990 Jun 13-14

68

27

5

1989 Jun 23

71

24

5

Do you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment that would allow federal and state governments to make flag burning illegal?

Favor

Oppose

No
opinion

1989 Oct 5-8

65%

31

4

27. (Asked of those who favor amendment) If this amendment is not passed, would you be very upset, somewhat upset, not too upset, or not at all upset?

28. (Asked of those who oppose amendment) If this amendment is passed, would you be very upset, somewhat upset, not too upset, or not at all upset?

COMBINED RESPONSES (Q.26-28): BASED ON FULL SAMPLE OF FORM A RESPONDENTS

Favor,
upset if not passed

Favor,
not upset if not passed

Oppose,
not upset if passed

Oppose,
upset if passed

No opinion

2006 Jun 23-25

40%

16

21

20

3

29. Some people feel that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to make it illegal to burn or desecrate the American flag as a form of political dissent. Others say that the U.S. Constitution should not be amended to specifically prohibit flag burning or desecration. Do you think the U.S. Constitution should or should not be amended to prohibit burning or desecrating the American flag?

BASED ON 516 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

Yes,
amended

No,
not

No
opinion

2006 Jun 23-25

45%

54

2

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/23524/Public-Support-Constitutional-Amendment-Flag-Burning.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030