Pew poll: Huge GOP swing between civil liberties and security since last November

I would have expected a shift like this after a major terror attack. To see it happening in the absence of one is amazing. Three possibilities, none mutually exclusive. One: Republicans are very worried about ISIS. Two: After Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the jihadi rampage in Iraq, Republicans have lost whatever sense of national security they’d developed after five years of Obama. Three: The flirtation with Paul-style civil libertarianism is over as the Snowden storm recedes. Republicans are returning to their post-9/11 hawkish status quo.

Bad news for Rand, whatever the answer. And it’s not just Republicans who have shifted.

In a reversal from last year after Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, 50% today say they are more concerned that government anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough to protect the country, while 35% are more concerned that the policies have gone too far in restricting civil liberties.

In July 2013, 47% said their greater concern was that government policies had gone too far in restricting civil liberties, while fewer (35%) said their bigger concern was inadequate security. That marked the first time in nearly a decade of Pew Research Center polling that more expressed concern over civil liberties than protection against terrorism.

From a 12-point tilt towards emphasizing civil liberties to a 15-point tilt towards emphasizing security in a little more than a year. Another number that blew my mind: Last year, 30 percent of Republicans said the feds weren’t doing well at reducing the threat of terrorism. This year it’s … 58 percent. Can’t remember the last time I saw a poll on any subject where a major demographic nearly doubled in support or opposition without some singular intervening event, but there you go. I wonder if the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff are what’s driving this or if it’s a reaction to the broader threat posed by the rise of ISIS. Probably some of both, right?

Here’s the partisan breakdown.


As you can see, it’s not just Republicans who have shifted. Independents have also swung nearly 10 points in favor of security over civil liberties, helping to produce a 50/35 split among the public overall. But wow, those GOP numbers. When I started reading Pew’s digest of the data, I figured that non-tea-party Republicans would account for most of the change on the right. It’s the centrists like Chris Christie who tend to be more hawkish; centrist Republicans were also far more evenly divided last year when Pew asked GOPers if they approve or disapprove of NSA surveillance. Tea partiers disapproved overwhelmingly, 27/66, but non-tea-partiers disapproved more narrowly, 41/52. Look back at the table above, though. There’s almost no difference among the two groups of Republicans on the security/civil liberties question now. Why Pew didn’t ask specifically about NSA surveillance to see how tea partiers have changed since last year, I don’t know. Maybe that’s tomorrow’s data digest?

One more graph that’s semi-related to all this, this time from Gallup:


Incredible though it may seem, the GOP’s lead is wider on that question now than it was a year after 9/11, when Bush’s popularity was still stratospheric and Republicans ended up gaining seats in the midterms because of his terror-fighting cred. Looking at that and the Pew data above, I wonder how Rand Paul’s campaign will deal with the already building pressure for the GOP nominee to run as a member of the loud-and-proud party of hawks again. Maybe, as the fight against ISIS drags on, a new round of war fatigue will take the edge off these numbers or even reverse the trend. I don’t know, though: Republican voters stuck with Bush a long time on Iraq. As recently as last month, with 71 percent of the broader public saying that the Iraq war wasn’t worth it, more GOPers still said that it was worth it than that it wasn’t (46/44). Rand’s got a lot of work to do on the way to 2016.

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David Strom 3:31 PM on November 30, 2022