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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - For the Week Ending June 15, 2013

The news that the National Security Agency is monitoring everybody’s phone records and reading emails dominated the news last week. Most voters (57%) fear other government agencies will use the NSA data to harass political opponents. Just 26% support the government monitoring effort

President Obama, whose deeply held faith in government is unwavering, dismissed the concerns as “hype.” He added, "If people can't trust not only the executive branch but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here."

We have a problem.

Just 30 percent of voters nationwide have that much trust in government officials when it comes to these surveillance efforts.

Only 24 percent now are confident that the federal government does the right thing most of the time.

Scott Rasmussen’s weekly newspaper column suggests that this popular distrust of government is the theme that ties all the recent news stories together. "It's a driving force in the current policy debates over immigration, gun control, health care and more." Scott adds, “Many in Washington are frustrated by the public distrust. They dream of public relations programs to overcome it. What is needed, though, is for the government to change its behavior, so that it can earn the trust of the people it serves.”

Public reaction to the National Security Agency’s surveillance program is the lead topic on this weekend’s episode of What America Thinks . In addition to reviewing the latest polling data, Scott Rasmussen interviews former NSA analyst and subsequent whistle-blower Kirk Wiebe about the program and how concerned the American people should be. Find a station near you.

Right now, though, there are enough controversies to rank them in order. The NSA spying is seen as the top concern by 35% while 22% say the same about the IRS targeting of conservative political groups. Lower on the list are questions about Benghazi and the Justice Department’s snooping of reporters. Among those following the story most closely, the IRS scandal is seen as the most serious.

The distrust factor is playing a huge role in the debate over immigration reform. While most voters support the concept of immigration reform, they do not trust the government to honor and enforce the border security provisions of any new law. That’s why most demand that border security comes first.

On health care, the president’s law is progressing along an uncertain path to implementation. However, just 39% of voters have a favorable opinion of it. The distrust factor is on display here as well. Despite government promises that the plan will reduce the cost of care, just 13% believe it will actually lead to lower costs. Seventy-five percent (75%) think the health care law is likely to cost more than official estimates and 66% believe it will increase the federal budget deficit.

Only 19% believe the new law will improve the quality of care. Forty-eight percent (48%) believe it will hurt. With these concerns in mind, most Americans want the option of less health insurance coverage and more take home pay.  “In that environment, employers will compete to find the best mix of pay and benefits needed to recruit good employees,” Scott Rasmussen said in a recent newspaper column. “As consumers opt for less coverage and more take-home pay, they will effectively repeal a major portion of the president's health care law.”

Similarly with gun control, Americans overwhelmingly like the idea of requiring background checks for those who want to purchase a gun, but they are very suspicious of where the president and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg want to go from there. If voters were convinced their plan was for background checks and nothing more, it would have enjoyed broad popular support.

Voters still have more faith in state and local government than they do in the federal government. Not surprisingly, they want to see a number of issues currently handled by the feds shifted to government closer to home.

But, while trusted more, there remain concerns about overreach of local governments, too. In New York, city officials have filed discrimination complaints against a deli owner who requires their customers to dress modestly. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans think business owners should be allowed to have such a modesty requirement. Just 22% disagree.

The Obama administration now says the Syrian government has crossed a red line by using chemical weapons on its population. As a result, the administration will provide military assistance to Syrian rebels. Earlier polling showed that, even with proof of a chemical weapons attack, just 31% of voters think the United States should provide military assistance to protect the Syrian rebels.

Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes said “Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives.” However, only 23% of all voters regard Syria as a vital national security interest of the United States. Rhodes said the U.S. interests “include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity."

On What America Thinks, Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute and Christopher Griffin of Foreign Policy Initiative recently debated U.S. involvement in Syria.  Preble argued strongly that the U.S. should stay out, while Griffin took the opposite view. 

In other news this week:

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Remember, if it's in the news, it's in our polls. 

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