NSA Polls - Still not asking the right question Americans see the light A new Pew poll on the NSA scandal finds that only 48% approve of warrantless
January 10, 2006

NSA Polls - Still not asking the right question

Americans see the light

A new Pew poll on the NSA scandal finds that only 48% approve of warrantless eavesdropping even if it’s directed only at "Americans suspected of having terrorist ties" (47% disapprove). John at AmericaBlog correctly points out how misleading that question is, since it assumes that only suspected terrorists are being eavesdropped on. As John notes, when asked about eavesdropping on Americans generally, an overwhelming 73% disapprove.

Still, I’m amazed (and encouraged) that, even at the beginning of this scandal, so many people disapprove of warrantless eavesdropping even when it's applied only to suspected terrorists. It used to be that merely uttering that word "terrorists" made 70% of Americans (at least) eager to approve anything the Administration wanted in the name of fighting them. That fewer than half approve of warrantless eavesdropping even on those who have "terrorist ties" signifies real progress.

But it is critical to note that still no poll has asked the core question raised by this scandal – that is, whether Americans approve of the Bush Administration eavesdropping on Americans without a warrant where Congress has passed a law prohibiting such eavesdropping. This scandal is about Bush’s violations of the law, not warrantless eavesdropping itself. To get at the heart of this matter, then, a poll must ask whether the Bush Administration has the right to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant if Congress has banned such eavesdropping by law.

Even without the illegality component in the question, almost 50% disapprove of the Administration’s eavesdropping on suspected terrorists, and almost 75% disapprove of warrantless eavesdropping on Americans generally. Thus, the percentages of people who will disapprove of such eavesdropping if it’s against the law will obviously be much higher still in both instances.

There seems to be some lurking sense among cautious Democrats -- driven, as always, by fear of public opinion – that challenging this illegal eavesdropping program is a political loser. But these polls, and others, squarely negate that view, and the polls haven’t even asked the meaningful question yet. Once they do -- and once Democrats make the case clearly and unapologetically that Bush’s eavesdropping is against the law – there should be a swarm of real and pervasive outrage over this scandal. Americans do understand, instinctively, the real dangers posed by a President who claims the right to break the law.

--Guest blogged by Glenn Greenwald

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