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Illegal or Not, Voters Are More Supportive Than Ever of NSA

Monday, May 11, 2015

Following a federal appeals court ruling that the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records is illegal, voters are actually more supportive of the agency’s actions and put even more emphasis on preventing a terrorist attack over protecting privacy.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 44% of Likely U.S. Voters now favor the NSA’s tracking of phone calls and e-mails made by millions of Americans. Just as many (43%) oppose the practice. Thirteen percent (13%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Support for the NSA’s data collection is up from 35% last November and is the highest measured since news of the practice broke in 2013. Opposition is down from a high of 59% at that time.

Perhaps this rise in support for the NSA’s program is due in part to the fact that even more voters (62%) believe protecting the country from a possible terrorist attack is more important than protecting the privacy of most Americans. That’s up from 57% last November. Just 29% take the opposite view and believe protecting privacy is more important.

Just 34% of voters think the United States is safer today than it was before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the lowest level of confidence in five years. 

Seventy-three percent (73%) still say it’s at least somewhat likely the NSA phone and e-mail surveillance programs have inappropriately violated the privacy of innocent Americans, with 41% who say it’s Very Likely. That’s little changed from previous surveys. Twenty-four percent (24%) consider it unlikely the NSA wrongly violated some Americans’ privacy, but that includes only five percent (5%) who say it’s Not At All Likely.

But most voters (59%) now think it’s possible to satisfy public concern about the NSA surveillance program and still keep track of the nation’s terrorist enemies, up from 48% in January of last year. Just 15% disagree, while 26% are not sure.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on May 7 and 10, 2015 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

The number of voters who believe terrorists are winning the War on Terror continues to grow, while views of Muslims in general and U.S. relations with the Islamic world have worsened. 

Fifty-four percent (54%) of Americas think there is more of a threat from domestic Islamic terrorism these days. Forty-seven percent (47%) of voters believe the U.S. government focuses too little on the potential threat from domestic Islamic terrorism.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of Republicans favor the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone and email records, compared to 44% of Democrats and 37% of voters not affiliated with either major party. However, most voters in all three groups agree that preventing a terrorist attack is more important than protecting individual privacy and also feel it’s possible to satisfy concerns about the program while still tracking America’s enemies.

Voters under 40 remain much more opposed to the NSA’s activities compared to their elders and feel it is much more likely that the agency has violated the privacy of innocent Americans. While most young voters agree that preventing terrorist attacks is more important than protecting privacy, they feel less strongly about it than older voters do.

Men place more importance on privacy protection than women do.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) of voters who oppose the NSA’s data collection practices think it’s possible to satisfy privacy concerns while still keeping track of the nation's terrorist enemies. Only 58% of those who favor the NSA’s activities agree.

In January of last year, just 38% of voters trusted the president, the executive branch, Congress and federal judges to make sure the NSA program is abiding by the Constitution. Edward Snowden, the man responsible for revealing the NSA’s activities, is viewed favorably by 31% and unfavorably by 48%. A plurality (42%) believes Snowden should be treated by the U.S. government as a spy.

Several major technology companies like Google, Apple and Facebook supported a blocked bill in the U.S. Senate last year that would have placed tighter restrictions on the NSA’s collection of phone records, but 47% think such companies are more likely than the government to be monitoring their personal communications and Internet activity.

Generally speaking, Americans are confident in the privacy of their own Internet communications but still agree it's no longer possible to guarantee complete online privacy

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only. 

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