Two days ago, when Pew Research came out with a poll showing that a majority (56%) of Americans replied affirmatively to the question if "the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism," we were disappointed if not shocked.
However, what is surprising, is that moments ago Gallup has released its own poll conducted on June 10-11 "with a random sample of 1,008 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia" and which finds precisely the opposite: "More Americans disapprove (53%) than approve (37%) of the federal government agency program that as part of its efforts to investigate terrorism obtained records from U.S. telephone and Internet companies to "compile telephone call logs and Internet communications."
In other words Pew has uncovered a nation of sheep, who are all too willing to hand over their full privacy to a government operating in secrecy while being modestly "inconvenienced" in the name of the security of the "greater good", whereas Gallup uncovers just the opposite.
What can one deduce from this discrepancy? Perhaps it is nothing more complex than polling bias, most recently observed during the 2012 presidential campaign, and which shows that sometimes it is more important who is doing the polling than who is being polled and what questions are being asked.
Indeed, as Gallup concludes: "The reactions to these types of government programs have remained constant over the past seven years, although Republicans and Democrats have essentially flipped their attitudes over that time period, reflecting the change from Republican President George W. Bush to Democratic President Barack Obama."
And logically following from this, it also assists in perpetuating public bias and a political agenda - once again split according to party lines - in determining what the prevalent public mood should be based on such and such poll to force one to abdicate one's own views and beliefs, and to be absorbed by the Borg collective just because some (artificial) majority believes the contrarian view to be the correct one. After all humans are mostly social animals, unwilling to deviate far from what is "considered" the prevailing normal.
While we will leave this question open, here is what else Gallup found:
These results are from a June 10-11 Gallup poll. Although the current survey context was different, these results are similar to those obtained in a May 2006 Gallup poll measuring support for a government program that "obtained records from three of the largest U.S. telephone companies in order to create a database of billions of telephone numbers dialed by Americans." In that survey, 43% approved and 51% disapproved.
There are significant partisan differences in views of the government's program to obtain call logs and Internet communication. Democrats are more likely to approve, by 49% to 40%. Independents (34% vs. 56%) and Republicans (32% to 63%) are much more likely to disapprove than approve.
In 2006, when Gallup asked a similar question about a program that came to light at that point, Republicans were significantly more likely to approve than Democrats. The differences in partisan reaction between 2006 and 2013 reflect the party of the president under whose watch the programs were carried out at those two points in time.
Twenty-one percent of Americans disapprove of the government's actions, but say there could be circumstances in which it would be right for the government to carry out such a program, yielding a combined total of 58% of all Americans who either approve or could theoretically approve under certain circumstances.
A June 9-10 CBS News poll also found a majority (58%) of Americans disapproving of the government "collecting phone records of ordinary Americans." A June 6-9 survey conducted by Pew Research Center and The Washington Post found that 56% of Americans said a program in which the National Security Agency "has been getting secret court orders to track telephone call records of millions of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism" was "acceptable." The combined 58% in the Gallup survey who either approve or say there might be circumstances in which such a program would be right is similar to the acceptable percentage in the Pew/Post wording.
Thirty-Five Percent of Americans Very Concerned About Violation of Their Privacy Rights
A separate question included in Gallup's survey found that 35% of Americans said they would be "very concerned" about violation of their own privacy rights if the government had computerized logs of their telephone calls or Internet communications. Another 22% said they would be "somewhat concerned."
Sixty-four percent of Americans are following news about this issue very or somewhat closely, which is slightly above average for all news stories tested by Gallup over the past two decades.
Mixed Sentiment About the Leaker's Action
U.S. officials are engaged in a manhunt for Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor who claimed to be the source of the leak. Americans break roughly even when asked if it was right (44%) or wrong (42%) for Snowden to share that information with the press.
A plurality of Republicans said he did the right thing in leaking the news of the surveillance programs, while a plurality of Democrats said he did the wrong thing.
Americans are more positive about the media's actions in this matter, with 59% saying it was right for The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers to publish the information once they received it.
Results from the Gallup poll indicate that Americans have somewhat flexible views about the government's surveillance program and/or that they are still forming their opinions on the issue. A majority of Americans say that they might find the type of government surveillance program that has come to light in recent days as acceptable under some circumstances, but less than half say they approve of the program as it stands.
The reactions to these types of government programs have remained constant over the past seven years, although Republicans and Democrats have essentially flipped their attitudes over that time period, reflecting the change from Republican President George W. Bush to Democratic President Barack Obama.
Americans are divided as to whether the self-confessed leaker, Edward Snowden, is a hero or a villain, while one-third of Americans fault the press for advancing the story.