Public evenly split on Patriot Act extension

May 21, 2015, 4:02 PM UTC

Americans are divided over extending the Patriot Act, but most think that it should be harder for the government to access private information and communications

Americans are suspicious of government intrusion in their lives.  They say it should be harder for the government than it is now to access personal information.  Less than a third are happy with the current balance.  But despite this skepticism, Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll Americans are closely divided on what should happen next.

Majorities of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and Democrats agree the government has gone too far. 

Americans divide on whether the Patriot Act, adopted after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is a necessary tool to help the government find terrorists.  The Act is up for renewal and Republicans, a majority of whom believed the act was a necessary tool in the war of terror four years ago, today divided. In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul are on opposite sides of the question.  Paul conducted a filibuster against the extension, with a little help from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.  

In this poll, Republicans are narrowly favorable.  Democrats today are divided, and are closer to the GOP position than they are to that of independents, who disapprove of the Patriot Act now, as they did the..

As is the case in Congress, among the public there is no uniform partisan split when it comes to the Patriot Act’s proposed extension.  Democrats and Republicans give it a narrow thumbs up, while independents are opposed.

Younger adults tend to be independents, and they oppose any Patriot Act extension 45% to 27%.  Liberals, who tend to be Democrats, are even more opposed, 53% to 28%.

Opinions about the Patriot Act may now be entangled with feelings about the government’s collection of phone data.  The government’s collection of metadata was made public by Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who released information he took from the National Security Agency in 2013 about the government’s role.   The Snowden revelations also divided the country. 

In this poll, Americans divide evenly on the NSA phone data collection.  As many disapprove as approve.  There is almost no difference between Republicans and Democrats; independents disapprove. 

In 2011, by 55% to 45%, the public believed that the Patriot Act had prevented a terrorist attack.  Americans are not as positive about the impact of the collection of phone records.  They are almost as likely to say the data has been unlikely to have prevented an attack as to say it has.  Democrats and Republicans think it has; independents do not.

See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.