Debunking the “partisan shifts” on surveillance

The most important (and chilling) finding from the latest Pew Research Center/Washington Post survey is that 56 percent of Americans say they support the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone records, email and other electronic traffic.

A few, though, have pointed to a chart showing supposed hypocrisy on the part of Democrats. In January 2006, self-identified Democrats opposed the NSA’s surveillance programs by a margin of two to one. Today they support those programs by an almost identical margin.

The chart is helpfully labeled “Partisan Shifts in Views of NSA Surveillance Programs.” But what really matters is a parenthetical: “See previous table for differences in question wording.”

So I did, and you can, too. The 2006 survey, by ABC News and The Washington Post, was based on the following proposition: “NSA has been investigating people suspected of terrorist involvement by secretly listening in on phone calls & reading emails without court approval…”

This time around, Pew and the Post put it this way: “NSA has been getting secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism…”

I added the emphasis in both instances to highlight the differences. Under George W. Bush, without court approval; under Barack Obama, with court approval. And: “listening in on phone calls” in 2006 versus “track[ing] calls” in 2013. A considerable difference, regardless of what you think of the NSA’s activities (and, for the record, I’m glad they’ve been exposed).

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3 thoughts on “Debunking the “partisan shifts” on surveillance

  1. Steve Stein (@SteveZStein)

    It’s so difficult for the Lame Stream Media to get this right. :-)
    I am wondering, though, whether the law changed about requiring warrants or how warrants should be issued. I’ve read a couple of articles about that. But sometimes it’s like reading historical fiction – you don’t know what is actual history and what is made up. And you don’t necessarily trust the journalists to know the difference.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Steve: I’m not sure exactly how those changes in the law played out, and that’s an important point. I’m just looking at what survey respondents were asked.

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