Latest wiretap poll: The Frame’s Afoot.

Latest wiretap poll: Framing remains the key, and most trust government to know who’s a likely terrorist.

The latest New York Times/CBS poll (story here; full results, in .pdf, here) shows the frames on domestic spying frozen in place. Everything still hangs on whether Bush can persuade people that it’s all about the terrorists.

The relevant questions in the .pdf are numbers 56 or so following (starting at p. 30). Highlights:

—Only 28 percent of those asked are willing to “allow government agencies to monitor the telephone calls and e-mail of ordinary Americans on a regular basis”; 70 percent are unwilling. But:

68 percent are willing to allow such agencies to monitor calls and emails “of Americans that the government is suspicious of,” only 29 percent unwilling.

—The last two results make sense only given the belief that government agents can reliably tell “whose phone calls and emails should be monitored and whose should not.” This is to my mind a bizarre belief, but it’s a popular one: 58 percent profess “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence that government agencies can do that, as opposed to 28 percent “not much” and 13 percent “none at all.”

—when asked about Bush’s warrantless wiretaps, a narrow majority opposed turns to a narrow majority in favor when twelve words are added to the description of the policy: “saying this was necessary in order to reduce the threat of terrorism.”

—when asked whether the wiretapping was being done “as part of a plan to expand the power of the Presidency, or is it being done ONLY to fight terrorism” (all caps in original), ONLY terrorism wins by more than 2 to 1. A Bush-is-engaging-in-dirty-tricks accusation may in fact be true, but seems to have little traction right now—and anyone making it should beware of losing credibility.

This continues to be the battlefield: is the wiretapping against “ordinary Americans” or “suspected terrorists”? Do we mistrust those watching terrorists (since we clearly believe that they are watching terrorists) more than we fear terrorists? And will we be constantly thinking about terrorism as this issue gets argued—or about presidential power?

And, finally, for those who think that the American people have such an instinctive attachment to civil liberties that Bush can’t help but lose this issue: the poll asked,

If a person is suspected of a serious crime, do you think the police should be allowed

to hold him in jail until they can get enough evidence to officially charge him?

It’s true, a plurality (48 percent) said no. But 43 percent said yes.

The professed anti-government sentiment of Americans provides lots of hope to liberals, but mostly false hope. Opposition to government means hating the taxman, not the policeman.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.

One thought on “Latest wiretap poll: The Frame’s Afoot.”

  1. Framing the Wiretap Debate

    Language is everything, and if, nothing else, the Bush administration is very good at framing issues into either/or language. The current debate over domestic wiretapping is is just the latest example, and polling by the New York Times and CBS, via …

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