Oh my: 64% support new TSA scanners but public split on patdowns; Update: Why the decline?

Something for everyone here. For TSA skeptics, evidence that relentless media scrutiny over the past week is turning the public against the new protocol. That widely linked CBS poll taken between Nov. 7 and 10 showed 81 percent support for full-body scanners; this new one from ABC conducted just yesterday shows support down to 64 percent for the machines and a 50/48 split (within the margin of error) against the patdowns. (Among those who fly at least once a year, it’s 54 percent.) For skeptics of the skeptics, it’s evidence that for all of Drudge’s heavy breathing, most of the public’s still willing to have a screener remotely view their junk for security reasons. In which case, maybe Howard Kurtz is right. Maybe this is just an old-fashioned media pants-soiling!

Despite some outrageous incidents involving idiotic conduct, with 2 million passengers screened each day, more than 99 percent are unaffected by the new policy.

“Very few people actually get the pat-down at all,” John Pistole, who runs the Transportation Security Administration, told me. “I don’t know what the impression is” from all the media scrutiny, he says, “but it’s a very, very small number.”…

The [media] narrative combines a number of elements: Hassled airline passengers (who can’t relate to that?); terrorism concerns; invasion of privacy, and a hint of sexual naughtiness. But the key here is that every local news outlet in America could send a reporter or a crew to a nearby airport and grab a piece of the action…

[I]n the modern media world, anecdotal accounts rule. Perhaps some customers, not the disabled ones, were being oversensitive; doesn’t matter. We all identify with bedraggled passengers, having removed their shoes and belts, having dumped their drinks and packed their tiny toothpaste tubes, being oppressed by a rigid and inflexible system. But that doesn’t mean the excesses are widespread.

TSA’s doing what little damage control it can in response to high-profile outrages, either denouncing specific incidents on TV or personally apologizing to the victims by phone. But as Gibbsy acknowledged at today’s press briefing, political pressure is now such that the procedures are obviously going to evolve. Whether that means keeping the scanners but eliminating the patdowns in favor of an alternative (sniffer dogs?) or adding a technological tweak to further obscure passengers’ identities or something bolder, we’ll see. But, via the new poll, there is support for certain forms of profiling — provided it’s done right, of course:

Why, in an age of jihadi terror, religion would be prioritized lower than nationality, appearance, or race, I have no idea. Presumably Americans are worried either that there’s no reliable way to ascertain someone’s religion or that trying to ascertain it would necessarily involve means that are unpalatable (e.g., intense questioning of passengers about whether they’re Muslim). In any case, and needless to say, the acid test on all this is what happens tomorrow through Sunday, when a whole lot of Americans will get a taste of the new procedures firsthand. I think William Saletan’s right that “Opt Out Day” is apt to generate more of a backlash towards TSA skeptics than towards TSA itself as harried passengers stuck in line scream at them to just go through the scanner already. And if TSA can convince the public that the scanners are safe — which they are, provided that they’re only emitting the amount of radiation they’re supposed to emit — then this week might actually lead many fliers to develop a comfort level with the new procedures.

Via Breitbart, here’s freshly scanned LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the airport putting his moneymaker where his mouth is to defend the new machines. When will Obama and Napolitano follow suit?

Update: A commenter makes a good point. Here’s how CBS worded its question about the scanners a few weeks ago:

Some airports are now using “full-body” digital x-ray machines to electronically screen passengers in airport security lines. Do you think these new x-ray machines should or should not be used at airports?

81 percent said yes to that. Now compare the wording in ABC’s question, to which only 64 percent answered yes:

The Transportation Security Administration is increasing its use of so-called ‘full-body’ digital x-ray machines to screen passengers in airport security lines. (Supporters say these machines improve the ability to spot hidden weapons and explosives, and reduce the need for physical searches.) (Opponents say these machines invade privacy by producing x-ray images of a passenger’s naked body that security officials can see, and don’t provide enough added security to justify this.) Which comes closer to your own view – do you support or oppose using these scanners in airport security lines?

ABC informed respondents of the cons (and pros, which are more obvious) while CBS didn’t. Maybe that explains the difference between the polls, which in turn means maybe public opinion isn’t shifting that much after all. Again, this week is the acid test; next week’s poll comparison will be more reliable.