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January 19, 2006

Survey: Americans say they oppose eminent domain

RICHMOND—Americans remain strongly committed to protecting private property from the possibility of unjust seizure, according to the results of a nationwide survey released last month by American Farm Bureau Federation.

The poll shows, regardless of geographical, partisan and other demographic differences, Americans are unified nearly 2-to-1 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.

When survey 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.

The telephone survey of 1,076 adults was conducted Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, 2005. It is a component of the grassroots “Stop Taking Our Property” campaign initiated by AFBF following the Kelo ruling.

Virginia’s legislators have heard the public’s outcry on this matter: A total of 37 bills dealing with some aspect of eminent domain laws have already been introduced in the 2006 General Assembly. Of those, 13 are in direct response to the Kelo ruling.

Farming, in particular, received solid support when survey respondents were asked to prioritize entities that should be off-limits to eminent domain proceedings. Fourteen percent said farms with a portion of land set aside for conservation or environmental preservation should be protected from condemnation. That’s directly in line with the level of support respondents said should be given to historical monuments, churches, schools and hospitals.

Of those surveyed,12 percent said family farmers should be exempt from eminent domain laws; 9 percent supported exempting private businesses and 8 percent supported exempting all landowners.

Furthermore, Americans are much more likely to disagree than agree (67 percent to 24 percent) with the notion 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.

Although a higher percentage of Republicans said they were strongly opposed to eminent domain—45 percent compared to 40 percent of Democrats—the 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.

The survey results also show that Americans share the same general views about eminent domain, regardless of where they live. When asked to state their level of support or opposition to the right of the government to take private property for public purposes, close to two-thirds of participants expressed opposition: 65 percent in the East, 58 percent in the South, 59 percent in the West and 65 percent in the Great Lakes region.

Contact Tracy Taylor Grondine, 202-406-3642 or Mace Thornton, 202-406-3641, AFBF; or Martha Moore, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Director of Governmental Relations, at 804-290-1013.

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