Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
About a poll
Much has been made of the ABC News/WaPo overnight poll that showed that two-thirds of Americans have no problem with the Bush administration data mining their phone calls. As I and many others have said, the devil is in the poll question. Here's how Morin and company asked the question of respondents on Thursday (May 11):


"It's been reported that the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans. It then analyzes calling patterns in an effort to identify possible terrorism suspects, without listening to or recording the conversations. Would you consider this an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism?"
... to which 63 percent responded "acceptable" and 35 percent said "unacceptable" though by 56 to 42, respondents said it was right for the news media to have disclosed the program.)

And here's how it was asked by Newsweek and Princeton Research on Thursday and Friday:


"As you may know, there are reports that the NSA, a government intelligence agency, has been collecting the phone call records of Americans. The agency doesn't actually listen to the calls but logs in nearly every phone number to create a database of calls made within the United States. Which of the following comes CLOSER to your own view of this domestic surveillance program? It is a necessary tool to combat terrorism. It goes too far in invading people's privacy."
...to which 53 percent of all respondents answered "goes too far," (including 26 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Independents) vs. 41 percent who called it a "necessary tool."

It seems a subtle difference, and of course the Newsweek poll was taken as the coverage of the spy program was expanding in a negative direction for the president. But at the end of the day, the difference in how the question is answered depends on how the poll frames the intentions of the administration and the program (Even the Newsweek poll fais to identify the NSA as what it is -- a foreign intelligence collection agency that is prohibited from operating on U.S. soil). If you believe -- and are told -- that the goal of the program is solely to combat terrorism, and that the targets of any surveillance that followed the data mining are terrorists alone, you're probably OK with the program. But if you are presented with the program details, and are then asked whether or not you believe it is an appropriate tool for combatting terrorism, you have to make a more basic -- and I think honest -- decision. And if you fundamentally don't trust the administration and so don't trust them to stop at anti-terror surveillance, you probably have serious problems with them putting your every inbound and outbout phone call into a massive, secret database.

Count me among the latter.

By the way, the same Newsweek poll also has some bad news for the future fundraisiers for the Bush II presidential library. More than half of those surveyed believe Dubya will go down in history as a below average president.

What's really interesting about this poll, is that the percentage who find Bush "average" has always outpaced the share who find him above average, going back to October 2003, relatively early on in his Iraq war. What has really changed is that the percent finding him below average has risen sharply: from 26 percent in October 2003 to 50 percent now -- almost double. While those rating him above average have dropped from 29 percent then to just 16 percent now. The percentage rating Bush as just middling, really hasn't changed all that much -- down eight points from 40 to 32 percent -- with all of the difference going to "he blows..."

Meanwhile, because the inevitable comparisons will come, let's look at the same Newsweek/Princeton poll regarding Bill Clinton, last taken in Februrary, 2001. At that time, 36 percent said he would be rated as "average," 28 percent said "above average" and 34 percent said "below average". What's interesting with Clinton is that views of him were sharply negative at the end of his term, but grew increasingly favorable over time (or as the Bush II admnistration dragged on.) Yet even with some sharply negative numbers, 63 percent of Americans viewed his presidency as a success at the end of his term, and 52 percent believed he made progress towards solving "the major problems facing the country." Bush can only hope the next president sucks so badly that people will eventually get there with him.

Update: Seems the WaPo poll was as flawed as it seems. USAT contradicts it just like Newsweek did, and like Newsweek, with a much larger sample. The USAT result: 51 percent oppose the government's secret telephone database.

Update 2: Dan Riehl was polled, and he ain't buyin' it...

Neither is Wizbang's Grande Dame ("Crazy Auntie" just seems so pre-9/11...)

Tags: News and politics, , NSA, Spying, wiretapping, Bush, President Bush,
posted by JReid @ 11:50 AM  
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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