05/19/06 FOX News Poll: Public Supports NSA Phone Records Database

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A FOX News poll finds that a majority of the public supports the National Security Agency intelligence program that collects data on domestic phone calls and analyzes calling patterns, and nearly half think the program is more likely to help catch terrorists than hurt law-abiding Americans.

More generally, Americans say they would be willing to give up some of their personal freedom in order to reduce the threat of terrorism.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on May 16-18. The margin of error is plus- or minus-3 percent.

Overall, 52 percent of Americans support the NSA intelligence program that collects phone records and analyzes calling patterns in the United States without listening to or recording the conversations and 41 percent oppose.

Partisan differences on the program are striking, as 75 percent of Republicans support it -- more than double the 36 percent of Democrats that back it.

Among independents the results are more mixed: a 48 percent plurality supports and 43 percent oppose.

On a separate question, almost half -- 49 percent -- say the NSA program is more likely to “help catch terrorists and protect Americans,” while 40 percent think it is more likely to “hurt law-abiding Americans by using private information improperly.”

Similarly, by an 11-percentage point margin, the public believes the government is doing a good job (49 percent) protecting the privacy of ordinary Americans when investigating possible terrorist activity (38 percent “bad job”).

Republicans (71 percent) are twice as likely as Democrats (35 percent) to say the government is doing a good job.

Despite assurances from the president and other government officials to the contrary, nearly one in three Americans think the government is listening to their personal phone conversations.

While a 56 percent majority doesn’t think big brother is listening in, 30 percent think the government is eavesdropping and another 14 percent is unsure.

“While these numbers suggest the program is, at worst, politically neutral at this point, the steady drip of leaks may weaken support over time,” comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. “The administration is naturally reluctant to disclose everything it is doing, but each new revelation calls into question what they have said in the past.”

In general, many Americans say they would be willing to give up some personal freedom in order to reduce the threat of terrorism.

A 54 percent majority says they would give up some personal freedom, and 36 percent would not.

The number willing to make the trade off between personal freedom and security is down slightly from recent results and, not surprisingly, down significantly from polling conducted soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In January of this year, 61 percent said they would give up some personal freedom, down from 64 percent who said so last summer (July 2005).

In May 2001, before the attacks, 33 percent of Americans said they would give up some personal freedom; that jumped to a high of 71 percent in October 2001.

Michael Hayden Nomination

Gen. Michael Hayden, formerly the head of the NSA, has been nominated by President Bush to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Confirmation hearings for Hayden started yesterday.

More Americans think Hayden is qualified to lead the CIA (36 percent) than unqualified (20 percent), although the largest number -- a 43 percent plurality -- could not give an opinion.

PDF: Click here for full poll results