Monday, May 15, 2006


Pollsters beginning to get it right on the N.S.A. scandal

Well, it looks as if the pollsters at the big news orgs are finally getting around to asking folks a key question: What do they think of the legality of the N.S.A.'s program to collect the phone records of American citizens?

As I wrote last week, that insta-poll that The Washington Post put out around 24 hours after the story first broke -- you remember, the one that reassured us that 63 percent of respondents favored the program -- was badly flawed. Its questions framed the issue as simply civil liberties vs. terrorism, with no mention of the fact that many critics think the program may be illegal. But the problem with the NSA program isn't just that it is an undue invasion of privacy. It's also that this collection of private info about American citizens may be going on with no meaningful legal oversight. This is really crucial context, and no pollster who looks in the mirror and calls himself a professional has any business omitting it.

Well, comes now a poll from U.S.A. Today which finally raises the legality question. One of the questions:
Based on what you have heard or read about this program, do you think it definitely violates the law, probably violates the law, probably does not violate the law, (or) definitely does not violate the law?

And the answers: Definitely violates the law (22), probably violates the law (32), probably does not violate the law (25), definitely does not violate the law (14), and no opinion (8). As Atrios rightly notes, a total of 54 percent think it definitely or probably violates the law, and 62 percent want hearings. When the question of legality comes up, the complexion of public opinion changes.

Many props to the U.S.A. Today for asking about the program's legality. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Rich Morin of the Post has been in the polling bidness for a long, long time. Shouldn't he know better than to put out a poll so sloppy?
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