Meanwhile, in the Beltway Bubble: D.C. Is Out of Step With America on Snowden

The former NSA contractor set This Town's teeth on edge, but most Americans think he exposed something worth exposing.

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Reuters

He went to China to reveal closely held America secrets, had his passport revoked and a warrant issued for his arrest, fled to Russia with the aid of an accused sex offender, and has been offered asylum by Venezuela, a country whose anti-Americanism is legendary.

"He's a traitor," House Speaker John Boehner told ABC's Good Morning America in mid-June. He articulated the views of many in official Washington when he added: "The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it's a giant violation of the law." Said Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein, also in mid-June: "I don't look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it's an act of treason."

And yet, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, "American voters" -- having had a bit of time to reflect on the question -- "say 55-34 percent that Edward Snowden is a whistle-blower, rather than a traitor."

"Almost every party, gender, income, education, age and income group regards Snowden as a whistle-blower rather than a traitor," the pollsters reported. "The lone exception is black voters, with 43 percent calling him a traitor and 42 percent calling him a whistle-blower."

The poll also tracked some major changes since 2010 in American views of anti-terror programs.

But it's the views on Snowden I find most interesting: They suggest that the Snowden case is, like perceptions of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky drama, another one of those stories where public opinion and opinion inside the Beltway have diverged in a way that speaks more highly of the American people than of Washington insiders.

The majority of voters do not think Snowden has betrayed his country, but rather provided important information about government wrongdoing. You would never know that from listening living in Washington, where an intelligence official recently told The Washington Post that the information Snowden obtained was "'not even close to the lion's share' of what the NSA is engaged in."

I think that was supposed to be reassuring. And yet, if you asked the same folks interviewed by Quinnipiac about it, somehow I'd suspect that's not how they'd see it.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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