Friday :: May 12, 2006

Public Doesn't Share Our Concern Over NSA Data Mining


by Steve

In choosing which issues to use against this White House and the GOP in the fall campaign, those of us on the center-left must be prepared for the possibility that the country doesn’t see the NSA data mining and wiretapping programs with the same degree of alarm as we do. A quick ABC News/Washington Post poll done yesterday (with a relatively large margin of error of 4.5 points) found that the public isn’t concerned with having the NSA data mine the nation’s telephone calls, and that by a 2-1 margin, respondents weren’t concerned with the government tracking their calls. In fact, 45% of Democrats and 6 in 10 independents support what they have heard so far.

We can raise red flags all we want on our side of the aisle about the violation of basic freedoms and privacy that are front and center with the Bush Administration’s behavior here. But in this post-9/11 world run by an administration that has manipulated fear to a point that a large number of Americans are scared children who would rather give up some rights in order to be protected from the bad guy under the bed, it appears that the public is fine with intrusive and illegal programs like these until it is shown that Bush did something with this information other than build a database to be used in identifying suspect calling patterns.

At this point, it may be all we can do to get Bush and Hayden on the record here saying that privacy is not being violated and that the information is not being used for other purposes. This is why there are Democrats inside the Beltway who believe that a focus on this issue at this time, and away from other issues where Bush is clearly vulnerable such as gas prices, Iraq, and the general direction of the country are counterproductive heading into the fall election. Sure, in a perfect world Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to lead on principle even if the public doesn’t share our concerns yet. But the goal is to win in November and not do anything that steers that effort away from favorable terrain into areas where the familiar arguments can be used once again to dissipate support for a change in November.

To that end, the latest Harris Interactive poll done for the Wall Street Journal shows that Bush falls below 30 to a 29% approval rating.

Update: Understandably, many of you disagree with me on this. Others raise the good point that Richard Morin's poll was a quick poll of only 502 respondents using poorly-worded and misleading questions that painted a picture that isn't yet borne out by what we know. Fair enough. Perhaps as more is known over the next week or so this poll will be discredited. But I want to remind folks that there never were polls largely in our favor on the earlier NSA spying mess. (Hat tip to DKos diarist krazypuppy)

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