Americans have widely differing perceptions of what kinds of surveillance are included in recently revealed National Security Agency programs, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Polls on the NSA's phone records surveillance in particular have shown wide variation in apparent perceptions of the program -- from a Pew Research Center/Washington Post survey conclusion that 56 percent of Americans find the program "acceptable" to a HuffPost/YouGov poll finding that only 22 percent say it is "justified," with other polls falling in between or showing conflicted opinion.
According to the new HuffPost/YouGov poll, one issue at stake may be that many Americans have drastically differing opinions on what kinds of surveillance are included in the NSA programs.
Just over half of respondents -- 53 percent -- said that the phone surveillance program involves the NSA collecting American's phone records ("who people call and for how long, not each call’s content") without warrants. But 27 percent of respondents said either that the NSA is only collecting records of calls between Americans and foreigners (18 percent) or that it's not collecting any American's phone records without a warrant.
On the monitoring of other types of communications, Americans' perceptions of what the NSA was doing was even more varied. In fact, the poll shows that many Americans think the NSA's surveillance programs go beyond what President Barack Obama and other defenders of the programs have said that they entail.
Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they believe the NSA programs include the ability to listen to any American's phone calls without a warrant -- almost as many as the combined 41 percent who said either that the NSA only listens to phone calls between Americans and foreigners (15 percent) or that the NSA doesn't listen to any American's phone calls without a warrant (26 percent).
Forty-two percent said that they believe the NSA programs include reading any American's emails without a warrant, compared to only a combined 33 percent who said the NSA reads emails between Americans and foreigners (15 percent) or that it can't read any American's emails without a warrant (18 percent).
In the case of each type of monitoring, Democrats were the least likely, and Republicans the most likely, to think the program gives the government the ability to track all Americans, with independents generally falling in between.
Fifty percent of respondents to the new poll said that they have heard a lot about the NSA's phone and online surveillance programs, while another 39 percent said they've heard a little and another 12 percent said they've heard nothing at all. A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted a week earlier found that only 36 percent of respondents said that they had heard a lot, although the question asked in the latest poll was more general to avoid providing too much description of the programs.
HuffPost/YouGov June 12-13:How much have you heard about National Security Agency phone and online surveillance programs that were recently made public?
HuffPost/YouGov June 6-7: How much have you heard about the National Security Agency obtaining records of all U.S. Verizon customers - collecting who people call and for how long, not each call’s content?
Still, as Americans learn more about the programs and their perceptions -- right or wrong -- become more solidified, pollsters are chasing a moving target in measuring public opinion on those programs.
The new HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted June 12-13 among 1,000 adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.
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