Two weeks ago, Quinnipiac found that 55 percent considered him a whistleblower versus just 34 percent who regarded him as a traitor. This new ABC/WaPo data doesn’t squarely contradict that — you can believe that he deserves to be charged with something while thinking that it should be less than treason — but as of a month ago, a near-majority of 48 percent didn’t want him charged with a crime at all. Public support for him is slipping. The question for the next Quinnipiac poll is how much it’s affecting the whistleblower/traitor calculus.
When I posted the ABC/WaPo link on Twitter, a few Snowden supporters tweeted back that this is what happens when you’re the target of a government propaganda campaign. Yeah? What’s the “propaganda” that’s supposedly being spread by the feds? They claim that he ran away to China and then to Russia with a treasure trove of sensitive info that can damage U.S. national security. Snowden himself says yep, that’s true; Glenn Greenwald reminds the world almost daily that there are more damaging revelations still to come and plenty of stuff even more damaging than that which Snowden’s holding back on because it would endanger U.S. personnel in the field if it were leaked. Some or all of this may already or eventually be in the possession of Russian or Chinese intelligence, depending upon how forceful they’re willing to be with him and how willing he is to resist. There’s nothing the feds have said about Snowden that’s remotely as damaging to him as his own decision to hole up in Moscow and issue encomiums to Russia and Venezuela for, ahem, standing up for human rights.
Snowden apologists will wave this away on grounds that the real story’s not about him, it’s about surveillance, and that he’s actually winning this debate with the White House if you look at how the public’s soured on the NSA and data-mining lately. But the story is, partly, about him; the way the public views a policy is shaped to some extent by their trust in the people pushing for and against it. The more perceptions of Snowden go south, the more people will view his PRISM revelations less through the lens of the concerned citizen who boldly stood up for civil liberties and more through the lens of a Wikileaks-type attempt to embarrass the government out of antagonism to U.S. policies more broadly. It’s not a huge factor, nor should it be, but it’s something. That’s human nature. Which brings me to the claim that Snowden’s winning the debate, supposedly bolstered by ABC/WaPo’s new data showing fully 74 percent of respondents regard NSA data-mining as intruding on Americans’ privacy rights. If you look more closely at the numbers, though, you find this:
A significant minority of the people who think government surveillance is intrusive also think the intrusion is justified. And what’s more, they’re less inclined to say it’s intrusive when you ask them about their own personal privacy. All told, despite weeks of revelations that show the feds are mining basically every form of electronic communication, you’ve still got majorities who say that that’s either not intrusive or that it’s justifiable. Is that “winning” the debate? Ask yourself this: How many votes is Justin Amash’s “defund the NSA” amendment apt to get in the House today? Let’s assume something strange happens and the amendment passes, whereupon it’s quickly killed by Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate. Do you think that’ll be a major issue in the midterms, or in 2016? (Rand Paul’s counting on it, I know, but I’m still asking.) The way Snowden wins this debate is if people in Washington start losing their seats because they support the current scope of federal data-mining. Where’s the evidence that that’s going to happen?