Saturday, January 07, 2006

Spying poll

I was about to tack this onto the overly long post about the CRS report, but then no one would have seen it.

The AP finds that a majority of Americans (56%) think that "the Bush administration [should] be required to get a warrant from a judge before monitoring phone and internet communications between American citizens in the United States and suspected terrorists."

Compare this with the 64% who Rasmussen found wanted the NSA to have the power to tap international calls involving terrorism suspects, and we can conclude that only 8% of Americans support warrantless taps to get those calls.

Yes, I'm well aware that that's a particularly bad way to use the results, but math is fun. You see, 42% said no warrant should be required, 2% said they weren't sure. They weren't given the option of choosing no surveillance at all (which be a minority opinion, but deserves representation).

Now we need some pollster to do the proper three-pronged question: "Should the Bush administration be allowed to monitor phone and email communications [I prefer this phrasing to "internet communications"] between American citizens in the United States and people linked to al Qaeda, and should that monitoring be allowed with a judge's warrant, or should no warrant be required for such monitoring?"

One probably ought to rotate the options in some sensible way.

I question the use of "monitoring" as "surveillance" or "intercept"/"interception" seem like more accurate phrasings. "Monitor" has benign connotations, while "intercept" or "surveillance" seem more neutral. I suspect that change would drive the opposition that AP got up over 60%. It would be interesting to do a split sample, with one sample being asked about "monitoring" and the other half about "interception."

What does this mean?

Polling like this can't tell us if the surveillance was legal, necessary, proper, wise, constitutional, "a recipe for tyrrany," or anything else. But Sam Alito will have to sit in front of the Judiciary Committee and answer questions. Pat Roberts will have to answer the country's questions about this program eventually. The entire House and a third of the Senate will have to answer to their constituents this November. How unpopular this spying (which is a loaded term, not suitable for polling) is will determine how aggressive they are in their oversight. If 64% approve, maybe it isn't worth messing with. If 56% are opposed, maybe it is.

As always, brief, polite, and clear phone calls, letters and emails will do the most to convince your congresscritters to demand answers, because they know that the only poll that really matters is that one next November, and people call and write about issues that will influence their vote.