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January 27, 2006
NYT/CBS Poll Undersamples Republicans, Still Shows Approval For NSA Program

The New York Times reports this morning on "mixed support" for the NSA surveillance program it exposed last month just as the Patriot Act came up for renewal. Fifty-three percent of all respondents support electronic monitoring of communications without warrants if necessary to protect national security and save lives:

In a sign that public opinion about the trade-offs between national security and individual rights is nuanced and remains highly unresolved, responses to questions about the administration's eavesdropping program varied significantly depending on how the questions were worded, underlining the importance of the effort by the White House this week to define the issue on its terms.

The poll, conducted as President Bush defended his surveillance program in the face of criticism from Democrats and some Republicans that it is illegal, found that Americans were willing to give the administration some latitude for its surveillance program if they believed it was intended to protect them. Fifty-three percent of the respondents said they supported eavesdropping without warrants "in order to reduce the threat of terrorism."

The results suggest that Americans' view of the program depends in large part on whether they perceive it as a bulwark in the fight against terrorism, as Mr. Bush has sought to cast it, or as an unnecessary and unwarranted infringement on civil liberties, as critics have said.

In one striking finding, respondents overwhelmingly supported e-mail and telephone monitoring directed at "Americans that the government is suspicious of;" they overwhelmingly opposed the same kind of surveillance if it was aimed at "ordinary Americans."

That sounds reasonable; Americans don't want the tactic used unless the government has a reasonable suspucion that at least one of the participants in the communication has a tie to terrorists. In fact, if one actually reads the study, Bush's numbers on handling terrorism have improved since the revelation last month of the NSA directive by four points (now at 52%). The Democratic attacks on the Bush administration appear to have reinforced his image as an active defender of the nation.

That is most remarkable, given the nature of the sample used by CBS and the NYT for this poll. The last two pages contain the demographic information for the poll sample, and it reveals that the Democrats got overrepresented once again in the respondents:

Republicans: 29%
Democrats: 34%
Independents: 33%
Other: 4%

That imbalance is a running feature of the NYT/CBS polls, as the data shows. ABP has more on the biases of the sampling, but the bottom line is that even with this tendency towards the left, the poll results are hardly "mixed" in the traditional sense; a majority of respondents agree with the NSA program, even when it got misrepresented in the question asked:


62. After 9/11, President Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants, saying this was necessary in order to reduce the threat of terrorism. Do you approve or disapprove of the President doing this?

Approve Disapprove DK/NA
1/20-25/06 53 46 1

63. After 9/11, George W. Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants. Do you approve or disapprove of George W. Bush doing this?

Approve Disapprove DK/NA
1/20-25/06 46 50 3

Neither form of the question mentions two salient facts: the monitoring involved only international communications and were initiated by other evidence showing at least one of the participants had connections to terrorist organizations. Do you suppose those numbers would have been significantly different under that context? I suspect that both the NYT and CBS knows it would have been -- which is why they asked the questions above instead.

Democrats know the difference, which is why they've changed their tune subtly over the past week or so. No longer are politicians calling for impeachment, but instead amending the laws involved to put Congress in charge of the NSA effort. That won't pass Constitutional muster -- the Commander-in-Chief has to run the war, not Congress, as various cases during the Civil War decided -- but now instead of the NSA threatening civil liberties, Congress wants to take credit for the protection it has offered the nation. Expect the outrage to dissipate sometime soon.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 27, 2006 8:45 AM

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» Fly By 01/27/06 from The Strata-Sphere
Lots and lots happening - and no time to blog! Well, let’s just have a quick Fly By of great posts from others with a little more time on their hands. Beginning with my current obsession - the NSA-FISA dust up - there is a lot of information o... [Read More]

Tracked on January 27, 2006 9:56 AM

» About that NYT/CBS poll from Sister Toldjah
… specifically, the one I blogged about earlier this week where 53% of those polled answered that they were ok with warrantless wiretaps when used to fight terrorism: Did you know that the poll included an oversampling of Dems? I didn’... [Read More]

Tracked on January 28, 2006 8:23 AM


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