Journalists can publish government secrets, if obtained properly, but leakers should be prosecuted

April 18, 2019, 6:30 PM GMT+0

A plurality (36%) of Americans support the prosecution of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks

Press freedom is fine, according to Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, even when the media publishes government secrets they obtained through ordinary reporting. One in two (50%) say the press should be allowed to publish those secrets, though 38% disagree. The public applies a different standard when it comes to leaks of government secrets, both in principle and in the evaluation of specific individuals. Then, Americans want prosecutions.

Just one in five Americans, including 29% of Democrats and 13% of Republicans, oppose prosecution of those who leak government secrets.

This affects opinions of Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, who was just arrested after more than six years in sanctuary at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and of WikiLeaks itself.

Americans favor prosecuting Julian Assange. In this poll, Democrats and Republicans are pretty much in agreement that Assange should be prosecuted.

In a November 2018 Economist/YouGov Poll, five months ago, Republicans were much more in favor of prosecuting Assange than Democrats were. Two-thirds of Republicans said they wanted Assange prosecuted, compared with 35% of Democrats (there is still a plurality of Democrats in favor of prosecution: just 30% oppose it).

The WikiLeaks publication of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential campaign gave the organization popularity among Republicans. In a May 2017 Economist/YouGov Poll, Republicans had a positive opinion of WikiLeaks (42% favorable, 31% unfavorable). But that’s no longer the case. GOP opinion of WikiLeaks (and of Julian Assange himself) are now definitely negative.

Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats believe that WikiLleaks has engaged in illegal activity: 50% of Democrats say this, as do 56% of Republicans.

The public also favor the prosecution of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who gave government documents to journalists. Snowden has been charged with espionage and is now in Russia, which gave him asylum six years ago. There is bipartisan support for his prosecution, though more Republicans (54%) than Democrats (40%) favor prosecution.

Read the full toplines and tables results here

Photo: Getty