February 3, 2006
Americans remain strongly committed to protecting private property from the possibility of unjust seizure, according to the results of a nationwide survey released recently by the American Farm Bureau Federation during the organization's annual convention.
The poll shows, regardless of geographical, partisan and other demographic differences, Americans are unified nearly two-to-one against government use of eminent domain to take private property, except in limited circumstances such as when the public at large would clearly benefit from a new road, electric utility or similar project.
Likewise, 83 percent of Americans oppose the use of eminent domain to further private development initiatives. Seizure for private development was the issue at the heart of the Kelo v. New London, Conn., case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. That case made national headlines when the high court ruled that property could be taken from one landowner to advance the economic development efforts of another private entity.
"The Kelo case sent shockwaves through American agriculture," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "If there is any land type on the outskirts of urban areas that is attractive to developers and vulnerable to government-sponsored seizure, it is our disappearing farmland. This case really sounded a justified alarm in farm country."
In the survey, when respondents were asked about the Kelo ruling, an overwhelming 95 percent expressed disapproval; of those respondents, 87 percent said they disagreed strongly with the ruling.
"That kind of near unanimity on this key property protection issue is heartening," Stallman said. "The protection of private property is a key thread in the fabric that makes up bedrock American values and to have agreement on this issue that cuts across all demographic boundaries should send a clear message to lawmakers at all levelsfix this problem now."
Farming, in particular, received solid support when respondents were asked to prioritize entities that should be off-limits to eminent domain proceedings.
For example, 14 percent said farms with a portion of land set aside for conservation or environmental preservation should be protected from condemnation. This is directly in line with the level of support respondents said should be given to historical monuments, churches, schools and hospitals.
Likewise, 12 percent of those surveyed said family farmers should be exempt from eminent domain laws, compared with 9 percent who support exempting private businesses and 8 percent who support exempting all landowners.
"America's farm and ranch families are unique in that they literally rely on their land for economic survival," Stallman said. "It is encouraging that when Americans are given a list of possible exemptions from eminent domain seizures that farm families came out on top."
Furthermore, Americans are much more likely to disagree than agree (67 percent to 24 percent) that the government is justified in using eminent domain laws against a small number of individuals who refuse to sell property when most of their neighbors agree to sell so a development project may proceed.
In addition, the survey illustrates the extent to which there is agreement among Republicans and Democrats on this issue.
Although a higher percentage of Republicans said they were strongly opposed to eminent domain45 percent compared with 40 percent of Democratsthe overall level of opposition among Republicans or Democrats was similar, with 66 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats expressing opposition to eminent domain.
Women expressed stronger opposition than men to the use of eminent domain. For example, when women were asked to state their level of support or opposition to the right of the government to take private property for public purposes, while paying the owner fair market value, 65 percent of women expressed opposition, compared with 59 percent of men.
The results also show that Americans share the same general views about eminent domain, regardless of where they live.