First Mislead, then Poll

I’m traveling on business, so the first thing I saw this morning was the USA Today that was delivered to my hotel room. It prominently features the USA Today/Gallup poll that finds respondents disapproving of the NSA’s phone number database by 51% to 43%. These results contrast with the mostly-favorable poll reaction immediately after the poll was first disclosed.

The newspaper story that accompanies the poll results says that these results vary because the questions were worded differently. I think that’s true. The key question in the USA Today/Gallup poll was:

Based on what you have heard or read about this program to collect phone records, would you say you approve or disapprove of this government program?

The NSA program has been so widely mis-reported as a domestic spying program, or wiretapping program, that it is no wonder that many disapprove. Answers to other questions in the poll suggest that the main reason for disapproval is either confusion about what the program consists of, or fear that there are other programs or elements of this program that are still unknown. Thus, a whopping 63% answered “Yes” to:

Are you concerned that, based on this program, the government would listen in on telephone conversations within the U.S. without first obtaining a warrant?

I’d guess that a big portion of that 63% have gotten the impression from news stories that such eavesdropping is going on.

Interestingly, this poll is largely consistent with others in finding that most Americans aren’t worried about their own phone records. When asked, “If you knew that the federal government had your telephone records, how concerned would you be — very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?” only 35% said they would be very or somewhat concerned; 64% chose “not very” or “not at all.”


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