Snowden Seen as Whistle-Blower by Majority in New Poll

by Jonathan D. Salant

A majority of U.S. registered voters consider Edward Snowden a whistle-blower, not a traitor, and a plurality says government anti-terrorism efforts have gone too far in restricting civil liberties, a poll ( released recently shows.

Plurality Thinks Government Restrictions on Civil Liberties Go Too Far

Fifty-five percent said Snowden was a whistle-blower in leaking details about top-secret U.S. programs that collect telephone and Internet data, in the survey from Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. Thirty-four percent said he’s a traitor. Snowden, 30, worked for McLean, Virginia-based federal contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH)

The poll also showed that by 45 percent to 40 percent, respondents said the government goes too far in restricting civil liberties as part of the war on terrorism. That was a reversal from January 2010, when in a similar survey 63 percent said anti-terrorism activities didn’t go far enough to protect the U.S. from attacks, compared with 25 percent who disagreed.

“The massive swing in public opinion about civil liberties and governmental anti-terrorism efforts, and the public view that Edward Snowden is more whistle-blower than traitor, are the public reaction and apparent shock at the extent to which the government has gone in trying to prevent future terrorist incidents,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute.

The view of Snowden as a whistle-blower rather than traitor
predominated among almost every group of respondents broken down by
party, gender, income, education and age. Black voters were the lone
exception, with 43 percent calling Snowden a traitor compared with 42
percent saying he was a whistle-blower.

Discordant View

“The verdict that Snowden is not a traitor goes against almost the unified view of the nation’s political establishment,” Brown said.

Facing espionage and other charges and with his passport revoked, Snowden has been holed up at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport since arriving there on June 23 from Hong Kong, which refused a U.S. extradition request. President Barack Obama’s administration has been pressuring other countries not to grant Snowden asylum, and U.S. officials who have called him a traitor include House Speaker John
Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

The poll showed both Democrats and Republicans about evenly divided on whether government counter-terrorism measures have become excessive. Independent voters view the methods as having gone too far by 49 percent to 36 percent.

“The fact that there is little difference now along party lines about the overall anti-terrorism effort and civil liberties and about Snowden is in itself unusual in a country sharply divided along political lines about almost everything,” Brown said.

Gender Gap

A gender gap emerges, though, on the government’s anti-terrorism programs. The poll showed that men, by 54 percent to 34 percent, see the government as having gone too far in its efforts while women, by 47 percent to 36 percent, said the measures haven’t gone far enough.

Despite this divergence, figures for the genders from Quinnipiac’s January 2010 poll exemplify the overall change in attitude on the issue. Male respondents, by 61 percent to 28 percent, said in the earlier survey that the government hadn’t gone far enough to protect the country. Among women, 64 percent said the same.

Likewise, among Republicans the percentage who said government has gone overboard in restricting civil liberties in the fight against terrorism grew to 41 percent in the new poll, compared with 17 percent three years ago.

“It would be naive to see these numbers as anything but evidence of a rethinking by the public about the tradeoffs between security and freedom,” Brown said.

The telephone poll of 2,014 registered voters June 28-July 8 has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.Φ

Jonathan D. Salant is the Washington D.C. Metro Area political reporter for Bloomberg News. He is a former president of the National Press Club.

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