We May Not Like Edward Snowden, But Many Agree With Him

June 19, 2013, 2:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 6/15/2013) Americans have mixed opinions about Edward Snowden, the government contractor who leaked information about government collection of phone and computer records. But the latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds that the public sides with him on a number of items – doubting the government’s honesty on the subject, and wanting to make it more difficult for the government to gather information about Americans, even in the pursuit of terrorists. As many say they have an unfavorable view of Snowden as a favorable one. And the division over Snowden personally is fairly consistent among all demographic groups. However, independents are the most positive towards Snowden. The public, however, takes Snowden’s side on the issue of data collection; in fact, more say he did the right thing than the wrong thing in releasing the information about the program, and somewhat more think he should not be prosecuted for what he did than believe he should.

But when it comes to the data collection itself, Americans don’t believe NSA claims that it collected only metadata and didn’t listen in to calls (50% believe it did in fact listen in – though that’s down 6 points from last week).

Respondents are dubious that the program has prevented any terrorist attacks. 36% think it is likely the program has prevented attacks, but 46% say that is unlikely.

And in looking at this particular leak, nearly half say that, contrary to government claims, it has NOT damaged national security. Just 30% think it has. These opinions may put public assessment of government surveillance operations - and even the whole anti-terrorism program - at risk, although the public has wanted U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan long before the drawdowns began. When asked if the country’s military operations and internal surveillance fighting terrorism has been worth the cost, Americans divide closely. 35% say it has, but 41% say it has not.

And more than half (56%) want to make it harder for the government to access private information than it is today.

In the first few days of news about the leaks, two polls (HuffPost/YouGov and Pew/Washington Post) found somewhat different opinions about the government surveillance program. In this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll a random half of respondents were asked each of the questions, and while there were some differences, the direction of the answers the public gives to both questions is consistent. By 56% to 28%, Americans see the actions as an unnecessary intrusion into their privacy; by 43% to 34%,they say it is unacceptable.

Americans are divided on the President’s handling of terrorism: in this week’s poll, 44% approve, and 43% do not, a similar rating to a week ago. And his overall approval rating continues to sag, as he faces opposition both to the NSA surveillance program and to his military aid to the rebels in Syria. In this week’s poll, 43% approve of the way the President is handling his job; 50% do not.