Monday, June 10, 2013


A new Pew/Washington Post poll shows that public approval of government surveillance is pretty much what it was in the Bush years -- but members of the two major parties have switched places to some extent:
... The survey finds that while there are apparent differences between the NSA surveillance programs under the Bush and Obama administrations, overall public reactions to both incidents are similar. Currently, 56% say it is acceptable that the NSA "has been getting secret court orders to track telephone calls of millions of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism."

In January 2006, a few weeks after initial new reports of the Bush administration's surveillance program, 51% said it was acceptable for the NSA to investigate "people suspected of involvement with terrorism by secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails between some people in the United States and other countries, without first getting court approval to do so."

However, Republicans and Democrats have had very different views of the two operations. Today, only about half of Republicans (52%) say it is acceptable for the NSA to obtain court orders to track phone call records of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism. In January 2006, fully 75% of Republicans said it was acceptable for the NSA to investigate suspected terrorists by listing in on phone calls and reading emails without court approval.

Democrats now view the NSA's phone surveillance as acceptable by 64% to 34%. In January 2006, by a similar margin (61% to 36%), Democrats said it was unacceptable for the NSA to scrutinize phone calls and emails of suspected terrorists....
So an awful lot of people are answering this question out of tribal loyalty -- Democrats opposed NSA surveillance under Bush and approve under Obama; Republican support has dropped quite a bit from a very high level of approval under Bush. (Republicans' opinion of current NSA surveillance isn't a mirror image of their opinion in the Bush years because quite a few Republicans are still loyal to the security structures put in place by Bush. They're approving what Obama is doing because they approve of Bush, not Obama.)

These poll results are tribal, I think, because respondents simply don't see this as something that affects them viscerally -- they don't think the government is likely to do anything sinister to them as a result of the surveillance data it's collected about them. So they don't feel they have a dog in the hunt. Therefore, their response is, more or less, to stick with the tribe.

Now compare the Terri Schiavo polls. Back in 2005, Republicans generally favored intervening to keep Schiavo alive -- and yet pollsters found that support for letting her be removed from life support crossed party lines. I think that's because ordinary Americans generally have to deal with end-of-life issues within their own families, or at least know they'll have to think about these issues soon. The Schiavo poll numbers were about a problem most Americans could imagine affecting them directly, and they wanted control, regardless of party.

Surveillance is remote. It's happening, but it seems to have no effect on most people's lives. People who are steeped in politics care a lot, but the rest of America doesn't. So, when asked about the issue, a lot of voters revert to group loyalty.


Phil Perspective said...

On another level, doesn't this indeed show there is a bully pulpit effect? Remember how numbers for the pro-SSM position increased quite a bit after President Obama voiced support for it?

Tom Hilton said...

Surveillance is remote. It's happening, but it seems to have no effect on most people's lives.

Well...the way I put it on Facebook is, I care a lot more about actual civil liberties violations (abortion restrictions, voter suppression, anti-LGBT discrimination, stop & frisk) than about hypothetical violations like datamining. I don't think the program is a good thing, and I'd probably answer the poll in the negative; but at this point the abuses are all hypothetical, and I think real violations that are hurting real people are a much bigger deal.

repsac3 said...

I also suspect that a significant amount of the right's mirror image is hidden in the Pew poll's independent numbers. A good number of "republicans" prefer to see themselves as "independent" tea party supporters, conservatives, or libertarians.

It would be interesting to see how those independent numbers would break if Pew, were to seperate the Nader / Green party independents from the Ron Paul / Tea party independents... Or even just clarify how their pool of independents self-identified when the earlier polls were taken.

("Independents" have no set political philosophy as a group, and I suspect that the balance of their in-group political leanings shifts depending on the party currently in power and the availability and viability of other ideological options. Including independents in a poll without identifying the leanings of the respondents is pretty meaningless.)

Examinator said...

W James Casper, Steve
I'm in agreement with you as far as you go.

I'd add my concern with Party policies and questionnaires is that the concept is logically flawed on several grounds as is Steve's assessment.

All the above are based on the false assumption that there is a binary question. either pro or against perhaps with an intensity factor.
Steve seems to be putting forward that tribalism is key factor in that in the absence of personal involvement it's the fall back position . In reality other research and the basis of advertising shows questionnaires more often than not a reflection of the current events i.e. the last event that comes to mind. Often how the topic is presented.

WJC makes the point that it isn't as simplistic as Steve seems to be maintaining.
Consider this … Say the eavesdropping catches a modern day Guy Fawkes red handed i.e. blowing up the Houses of Congress ( A very apposite analogy he was caught because one of the conspirators warned a friend of the plot to blow up Parliament by mail. ) . I doubt that tribal loyalty would be so rigidly indicative.

Now consider the variation on a theme i.e. stopped at the planning or associative stage
A bunch of tea baggers would the public be happy if the sweep involved non conspirators ( tea bagger in the same branch ?) I'm not so sure that the public would split on tribal lines .
Nor would I suggest that if the malefactors were Muslim ?
The key point is that in the absence of context including the division of independents the results are an artefact of the questionnaire.

If I was asked do I support Prism Y/N/ not decided and a 1-5 intensity answer 'come back when you have a real question to answer'. From which the drone on the phone would tick 'unresponsive' . Most people would tend to make up an answer not to offend . There is also a factor of wanting to please and what the respondent THINKS the other respondents will say.... “who wants to seen as an 'outsider' to a stranger?” All these factors have been shown to effect results dramatically (the rationale of ads and push polling.)

Anonymous said...

I think the "hypothetical violations" point is right on the mark. The people who have a serious issue with this are basically saying that anyone, even you, _could_ be under surveillance, and you wouldn't know it, and then the government _could_ harass you and make your life miserable. And the FISA Court is a rubber stamp, so even if you're not doing anything wrong, you could be caught up in someone else's dragnet, and tracked and indexed. OK, so stipulated. Is this happening to anyone?

Victor said...

I was agin it then.
I'm agin it now.

But what are we going to do about it?

Once the privacy genii left the bottle, there's little chance of getting it back in.

Congress can repeal The Patriot Act, but they won't. They are too cowardly.

If they won't, or feel that they can't, then start a new Church Commission, and put some more limits on this.

NAL said...

For What It’s Worth in stereo!

: smintheus :: said...

Pew's questions in that poll are so unspecific, soft focus, and hazy that I think it's impossible to conclude much of anything about what the public thinks of the NSA programs. It's almost as if the poll were designed to elicit numbers that would support the headline 'Public supports NSA programs'.

Tell the public that everybody's phone, email, and internet traffic records are being seized (much of it without even a warrant) and put into a permanent, secret database...and then ask whether the public approves of that. I don't think the results would be quite as sunny as Pew would have us believe based on this poll.

Steve M. said...

Well (as I noted a couple of days ago), Rasmussen more or less did that in a recent NSA poll (but, curiously, used much more benign wording when polling the NSA in the Bush years).

No, poll questions shouldn't conceal the facts, but I don't think they should have hair-on-fire wording, either. Try this: "Do you approve of a system whereby police officers are allowed to seek permission to search every item owned by any citizen, including the citizen's home, car, personal effects, computers, laptops, and phones, if a judge agrees that that citizen might be guilty of a crime?" And yet that's our system.

Examinator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Examinator said...

The truly sad thing here is not only is it that the 'revelation (sic)' came from an Overseas Newspaper("the Guardian [England]" NOT OWNED by the irksome US owned News (very) Limited conglomerate)but that it highlights the US propensity to navel gaze and there partially lies the problem.
Why mention "the Guardian" in this? Remember it was that group that first published the News group's activities in what was called the "phone tapping scandal".
One could ask where was the American outrage over that? In the US media it came and went in lickerty split timing perhaps 2 weeks and it certainly didn't generate the same indignation or debate. Ask why? It was an American owned corporation and it essentially was about the same issues privacy and telecommunications tapping.

It's different you say ? What you mean is it's now about us.... Well not totally. If one read world media beyond page 1 and what directly (sensationally) effects the US, one might discover that this is a WORLD ISSUE. It reflects BADLY on the US in that those electronic interceptions involve other countries.... including um ALLIES.
Yet the US media hasn't mentioned the wider field if it has it's lost under an ad for haemorrhoid cream etc.
Add the two together and you get a strong perception of US ARROGANCE and indifference to anything not American.
So it's fine that US corporations or government if you can unblurr to undermine other countries basic rights (the same ones the US's great unwashed froth at the mouth over gather their automatic weapons to become the modern day version of the 'minute men” albeit a definition of their concentration spans rather than defending against 'English tyranny (sic)'... the Guardian and world wide discontent perhaps? That's exactly as the US power brokers see it …..The tyranny of the people who oppose their hegenomy.

I've even read that people are complaining about the difference between the stated ambitions of senator and president Obama . Really? How naïve are these people. Obama inherited an institutionalised opposition of financial power with at least 60 years of eking away human rights ( with the * limited * exception of equal rights for the black , Americans albeit equal rights to be disadvantaged along with the other minorities , women, gays, unemployed and other assorted victims of the capitalist obsession ). He is when all said and done at the mercy of those who select , financially support and manipulate the congress members.

The point I'm making is that nothing happens in a bubble and Americans had better wake up soon that what happens in the 'self appointed World leaders” backyard also effects the other 6 Billion people's countries.
I can assure you that it hasn't slipped their thinking. If you wonder why America has been at constant war with somebody since 1947 hot and cold. Two things happen in all wars there are excesses committed in the name of 'necessity' (like the patriot act.) and there are ALWAYS VICTIMS and victims families and surprise surprise Lots and lots of resentment ( cause and effect circle of consequences)
Terrorism's biggest weapon and goal is fear and it's over reaction boy did Al Qada hit the jack pot with 911....Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the patriot act ( eternally punishing its own people and allies.

: smintheus :: said...

CBS did a poll asking very simply whether one approves of the govt "collecting phone records of ordinary Americans". Only 38% approved, 58% disapproved. Good evidence that the Pew poll was not measuring what it claimed it measured.