The American people are just fine with the federal government tracking their phone records. That’s the conclusion one might reach by looking at the latest Pew poll, which finds 56 percent support the controversial National Security Agency program.
King George III, all is forgiven. Then again, they say only a third of the colonists backed the American Revolution, so maybe we’ve always been sheeple.
But wait. Rasmussen finds that 59 percent of Americans — or at least 59 percent of the 1,000 likely voters polled — oppose the NSA’s actions. Only 26 percent are in favor.
Two different polls, two totally different results. How questions on this thorny issue are worded makes a big difference in how people respond.
“The federal government has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans for national security purposes regardless of whether there is any suspicion of wrongdoing,” Rasmussen’s pollsters stated before asking, “Do you favor or oppose the government’s secret collecting of these phone records?”
A subsequent survey question was: “Is the U.S. government spying too much on Americans these days, not enough or is the level of spying about right?”
Pew, by contrast, asked if the following was acceptable or unacceptable: “NSA getting secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism.”
Pew followed up with, “Should the government be able to monitor everyone’s email to prevent possible terrorism?”
When it is emphasized that most of the people whose phone records were tracked are innocent, that the government is engaged in snooping and that the justifications are vague, majorities oppose what the NSA is doing.
But when terrorism is emphasized and court orders are mentioned, the public is much more approving. Who wouldn’t let some bureaucrat poke through their LinkedIn requests if it would prevent another 9/11 or Boston Marathon bombing?
A friend finds the Pew wording more neutral. I’m more inclined to agree with Rasmussen’s framing. But for another heavy-handed yet revealing take, let’s consult South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, otherwise known as Mr. Military-Industrial Complex.