Poll wars

To paraphrase Mark Twain, there may three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies…and polls.

First, The Washington Post comes claims a slight majority of Americans support the Bush administration’s collection of information on most American’s phone calls.

That caught a lot of people by suprise (us included) so we found some solace in a Newsweek poll that said, to the contrary, that most Americans didn’t like the idea of the National Security Agency, the Pentagon and God-knows-who-else having a peek at our phone records.

So it was a case of "his poll said vs. their poll said" until USA Today, which broke the story last week about the database, released its poll on the issue:

A majority of Americans disapprove of a massive Pentagon database containing the records of billions of phone calls made by ordinary citizens, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. About two-thirds are concerned that the program may signal other, not-yet-disclosed efforts to gather information on the general public.

The survey of 809 adults Friday and Saturday shows a nation wrestling with the balance between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberties.

By 51%-43%, those polled disapprove of the program, disclosed Thursday in USA TODAY. The National Security Agency has been collecting phone records from three of the nation’s largest telecommunication companies since soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Most of those who approve of the program say it violates some civil liberties but is acceptable because "investigating terrorism is the more important goal."

"The combating-terrorism issue still has resonance with the American public," says political scientist Richard Eichenberg of Tufts University in Massachusetts. "But the public’s tolerance for this sort of invasion of privacy may be topping out. It may be people are starting to say: ‘When is the other shoe going to drop? What else are they doing?’ "

About two-thirds say they’re concerned that the federal government might be gathering other information about the public, such as bank records and data on Internet use, or listening in on domestic phone conversations without obtaining a warrant.

About damn time.