WaPo’s offering this as evidence that the public’s trending back towards security and away from privacy after Snowden’s heyday in 2013. It’s true, there is more support now for the former than there was 14 months ago; if Rand Paul was thinking of making opposition to the NSA a key piece of his campaign, this might give him pause. I think it’s more interesting, though, to see how strongly pro-security the public remained even after the surveillance bombshells first started bursting. Today, 63 percent say investigating terror is more important versus 32 percent who say it’s more important to prevent the government from intruding on privacy. In 2013, after the Snowden revelations, that split was … 57/39. Even at the height of public concern about the NSA, prioritizing privacy couldn’t crack 40 percent. Hmmm.
If that result displeases you, take heart in two facts. One: While you’ve lost ground, you haven’t lost as much as you might have expected to. After 18 months of worries about ISIS, and just two weeks after a horrible massacre in Paris, the split on security and privacy is pretty much where it was in 2013. Opinion on this subject may have hardened to the point where it’s largely impervious to new terror threats. Two: The partisan split is bound to change if/when the White House is back in Republican hands.
Democrats are even more gung ho about prioritizing counterterror over privacy than Republicans are, but partly that’s because they trust Obama to be conscientious about maintaining the balance. Put Ted Cruz in charge and see what happens to the numbers then. Democrats will immediately become more skeptical; Republicans who’ve come to sympathize with civil libertarian concerns partly due to distrust of O will surge back towards security. The topline numbers might not move much but I’ll bet they’ll move a bit towards privacy as liberals suddenly decide that questioning authority is cool again.
Dig down in the crosstabs and you’ll find two fascinating demographic divides. First, gender:
A 23-point spread between young adults and seniors. Wow. That’s good news for Team Rand insofar as they’re hoping to attract younger voters to his campaign, not so good news insofar as seniors are the GOP’s base. The gender divide is more interesting, though: Why would women be so much more likely than men to prioritize counterterror over privacy? Reminds me of the huge gender gap in last week’s YouGov poll on Charlie Hebdo and whether publications should engage in religious blasphemy. Men were consistently much more likely to side with those who publish provocative images than women were. I wonder if there’s a connection there: If you worry about security, it stands to reason that you might want to do everything you can to reduce the threat of terror — whether that means subordinating privacy interests or discouraging magazines like Charlie Hebdo from provoking the aggrieved. Or, since we’re playing armchair psychologist, maybe it’s a function of women being comparatively more communitarian than men are. Men side more with the individual who wants to publish offensive cartoons and with the individual who wants to be free of government surveillance. Women, more concerned about the threat to the public at large, are willing to prioritize those individual concerns a bit less. Or so you might think. Any other explanations? None of these are very satisfying.