How WaPo And Rasmussen Got Completely Different Poll Results On The NSA

by evanmcmurry

So WaPo has 56% of respondents saying they find the NSA’s collection of phone meta-data acceptable, compared to 41% unacceptable. The right-leaning Rasmussen, meanwhile, finds 59% oppose it, and only 26% favor it. What the hell?

Here’s WaPo‘s wording of the question:

Q: As you may know, it has been reported that 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. Would you consider this access to telephone call records an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism?

Here’s Rasmussen’s:

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. Do you favor or oppose the government’s secret collecting of these phone records?

Both contain the same amount of inflammatory rhetoric (“secret,” “MILLIONS”). But WaPo led off* with a question framing the data collection within the context of counterterrorism efforts:

 What do you think is more important right now – (for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy); or (for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats)?

Here, meanwhile, is Rasmussen’s context:

Is the U.S. government spying too much on Americans these days, not enough or is the level of spying about right?

That’s a hell of a leading question. I’m not in favor of the NSA’s actions, but I think its counterterrorist logic has some validity, even if I don’t agree with it. They should be allowed to make their case (belatedly) to the public on those terms. Walking up to poll respondents and saying, “Hey, you like tyranny? Well, do ya?!?” isn’t going to tell us anything useful.

* WaPo also distinguished between the NSA’s collection of metadata—the story Guardian broke on Wednesday—and the potential scanning of email content via PRISM—the story the Post broke on Thursday. Sure enough, the monitoring of content is unpopular, suggesting that the public is capable of a multitier understanding of the trade-off between privacy and security. We may be more amenable to the government collecting phone records than listening to our phone calls, etc. That’s much more insightful than Rasmussen’s stupid show results.

Y mas, via Steven Benen:

In 2006, the poll question dealt with a warrantless surveillance program in which the Bush administration exceeded its legal authority with no judicial check or congressional approval. In 2013, the Obama administration, at least given what we know now, appears to be acting within its legal authority, relying in part on the courts, and acting within a law approved by bipartisan majorities. For critics of government snooping, that’s cold comfort, but when it comes to gauging public attitudes, the bipartisan hypocrisy comes with an asterisk.