Gallup, Fox News polls: Public opposes broad NSA collection of records

I’m not going to blog every poll on this topic but some commenters were grumpy about the results of the Pew and CBS polls and I wanted to throw them a bone. If you’re waiting for a backlash, your wait might be over. First, Gallup:


And, hot on its heels, Fox News:


Now for the eeyorish caveats. First, in a separate question, Gallup finds that of the 53 percent who disapprove of the program, 21 percent say that there are circumstances under which this sort of data-mining would be appropriate. They’re not hard opponents, in other words, just opponents at this particular moment of the war on terror. Second, what’s missing from both of those questions? Right — a reference to the fact that the programs are authorized by statute (a broad interpretation of that statute, granted, but still) and being carried out under FISA orders from federal judges. The spread here between approval and disapproval is wide enough that mentioning legality might not in itself completely close the gap, but it’ll close it some. If you omit that detail about legality from your poll question, you might lead some respondents who aren’t following these stories closely to believe that this is all being done in absolute secrecy by some rogue agency without the rest of the government knowing. Not true.

On the other hand, here’s how a new Time magazine poll that got very different results framed the same issue. What’s wrong with this question?


Right — it doesn’t note the mind-boggling scope of the program or emphasize that millions of perfectly innocent Americans are having their data harvested. This question’s just vague enough, in fact, that some people might think it refers to collecting data specifically on terrorist suspects rather than the public at large. That’s why it shows mild approval of the program. Pollsters have to be more careful when asking about this. At a minimum, every question about it should note that the program’s (1) known to Congress and overseen by FISA judges yet also (2) incredibly vast and sophisticated, collecting digital fingerprints from virtually the entire population.

As for Snowden himself, the picture’s mixed. Reuters finds 31 percent who say he’s a “patriot” and 23 percent who say he’s a “traitor,” with 46 percent following the Rand Paul path of prudence and reserving judgment for the time being. Thirty-five percent say he shouldn’t face charges while 25 percent say he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Gallup has 44 percent saying Snowden did the right thing versus 42 percent who said he did wrong, with ye olde familiar partisan split: The GOP breaks 49/38 in favor of “right,” Democrats break 39/49 in favor of “wrong.” Time magazine’s numbers in favor of Snowden are more robust, but also more complicated: 54 percent say he did a “good thing,” but 53 percent want him prosecuted for leaking anyway. (That number drops to 41 percent among the 18-29 age group, do note.) That’s also in line with Rand Paul’s take on this so far, framing Snowden’s actions as “civil disobedience” to lend moral approval while holding open the possibility of prosecution anyway. Of course, there’s a big caveat to all this too — namely, those numbers could shift a lot if Snowden keeps sharing documents with Chinese media or Chinese intelligence. Stay tuned.

One more question to be asked here: What is all of this doing to public support for Obama, his administration, and big government in general? Two tidbits from Fox News’s poll on that score:


Thanks to the NSA revelations and the cumulative effect of Scandalmania, now is not a good moment for trust in government. In fact, Fox has Obama’s job approval down at 44/50, the lowest it’s been since last April. Gallup has it at 45/47 and Rasmussen has it at 48/51. Probably going to get worse before it gets better.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022