Whistleblower or traitor? Given those two choices, a majority of respondents in a new Quinnipiac poll choose “whistleblower” for Edward Snowden.  On the NSA, however, the majority still seems confused:

American voters say 55 – 34 percent that Edward Snowden is a whistle-blower, rather than a traitor, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

In a massive shift in attitudes, voters say 45 – 40 percent the government’s anti-terrorism efforts go too far restricting civil liberties, a reversal from a January 10, 2010, survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University when voters said 63 – 25 percent that such activities didn’t go far enough to adequately protect the country.

Almost every party, gender, income, education, age and income group regards Snowden as a whistle-blower rather than a traitor. The lone exception is black voters, with 43 percent calling him a traitor and 42 percent calling him a whistle-blower.

There are a couple of issues with this poll, starting with the choices offered.  Both “whistleblower” and “traitor” are emotional terms that don’t necessarily line up in legal terms with Snowden’s actions.  “Traitor” is a very emotional and negative term, while “whistleblower” is less-emotionally positive and sounds more moderate in comparison.  I’d have wanted to see “traitor” paired with an equally emotional and unequivocally positive term, such as “hero,” to get a real perspective on the emotional extremes — with perhaps “whistleblower” and “lawbreaker” in the middle.

Another problem with this poll is that the Snowden question comes after a series of leading questions about the nature of the NSA’s surveillance programs.  Quinnipiac chose to highlight the Snowden response, so that question should have come before asking concern-level questions about “the government’s anti-terrorism policies” and support/opposition for “federal government programs where all phone calls are scanned” — which, by the way, isn’t actually in evidence yet.  Metadata is collected on all calls, but at least for the moment, we don’t know that all phone calls, ie content, is scanned. Only after these and questions about intrusiveness do we get to the Snowden question at all.

The results of these other questions are, frankly, incoherent.  The respondents break 53/44 to say that the NSA program is too intrusive — but break 54/40 to say it’s necessary to keep Americans safe.  By 51/45, a majority supports a program where “all phone calls are scanned” in case any are connected to terrorism.  So why would the majority celebrate the man who blew the program’s secrets, unless the choices offered pushed them into that position?  None of this makes any sense, especially on top of the 45/40 result of higher concern over privacy than providing adequate security.

The results are a mess, thanks to the structure of the poll.  While I don’t doubt that Snowden gets quite a bit of sympathy for his actions, I’m equally convinced that this poll is an unreliable measure for it.