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You may be surprised to learn that Americans are evenly split on what seems like a generally non-controversial topic. 47 percent of Americans think the media shouldn't report on the government's surveillance tactics, matching the 47 percent that think it should. If you wonder why, the answer is simple: Americans overwhelmingly approve of the elements of the surveillance state. Until, in at least one case, it's reported on.
The 47 percent figure comes from a Pew Research survey released on Tuesday. The topline data looks like this:
Pew notes that the partisan equivalence is a new development.
These numbers represent a significant shift in opinion since 2006, when responses to the same question revealed striking partisan differences. A 2006 Gallup/USA Today survey—conducted when President George W. Bush was facing scrutiny for his administration’s anti-terror surveillance programs—found that 59% of Democrats thought news media should report on secret anti-terrorism methods used by the government. Just 26% of Republicans gave the same response.
Otherwise, though, the defense of the government's efforts isn't a surprise. A series of other polls show that Americans are broadly in favor of how the national security infrastructure does its thing.
A plurality of Americans think the CIA, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security are doing "excellent" or "good" work. That's from a Gallup poll conducted in May. Specifically, here's how the approval breaks down. Dark blue slices indicates "excellent" or "good," light blue is "fair," red is "poor."
Americans even like the TSA. As noted by Slate's Matt Yglesias, opinions of the work of the Transportation Security Administration — the people in charge of asking you to remove your shoes at the airport — rival that of the FBI. More than half rated the TSA's work as "excellent" or "good" in a Gallup survey conducted in August of last year.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans support drone strikes on foreign targets. A March Pew poll found that 65 percent of Americans supported the use of drones to take out non-American targets on non-U.S. soil. Seventy-nine percent, though, oppose the use of drones to attack American citizens in the United States.
And then there's the topic of the summer:
A plurality of Americans think the NSA's surveillance goes too far — but 51 percent still support it. This comes from a Quinnipiac poll released last month.
Does surveillance go too far?
Do you support it?
How those two things are commensurate isn't entirely clear.
What's notable, though, is that this represents movement. The pollster described that change.
In a massive shift in attitudes, voters say 45 – 40 percent the government’s anti-terrorism efforts go too far restricting civil liberties, a reversal from a January 14, 2010, survey by the independent Quinnipiac University when voters said 63 – 25 percent that such activities didn’t go far enough to adequately protect the country
That shift occurred following press coverage of the NSA's surveillance systems in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. And bringing it full circle: coverage that more than half of Republicans and Democrats would rather didn't exist.
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