A majority of Americans now disapprove of the NSA surveillance program, according to a recent Pew survey. Prior to leaked reports by Edward Snowden, Americans said they supported the program. Are NCSU students affected by Snowden’s disclosures?
As part of this spring poll, we conducted an experiment to see if exposure to images associated with either terrorism or privacy rights would change the mindset of students regarding government policies to prevent terrorist attacks. Students were randomly assigned to one of three different groups: one group was presented with an image of Osama bin Laden, one group saw an image of Edward Snowden, and a control group viewed Lebron James (the photos we used are visible in the sidebar).
Each group was asked to correctly identify the individual they were shown, followed by questions about privacy and terrorism prevention. 95% of students correctly identified Osama bin Laden, 67% correctly identified Edward Snowden, and 74% correctly identified LeBron James.
The PackPoll operated under the theory that if students saw a picture of a well-known terrorist before thinking about privacy and terrorism, they would be more likely to be concerned about protection from terrorism than worry about their privacy rights. Conversely, we believed that seeing Edward Snowden would prompt greater concern about privacy rights.
After viewing an image, all students were asked immediately afterwards if they approved or disapproved of the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts. When shown a picture of James, whose imagery is unrelated to the issue and thus thought to be a control group, 50% disapproved if they knew it was LeBron. Those who identified Osama were slightly less likely to disapprove of the NSA behavior, but the decline was minimal (47%). Yet, 58% disapproved if they correctly identified Snowden.
Safety versus Freedom
Later in the poll, we asked students to choose whether Americans should be willing to give up privacy to be safe from terrorism, or if Americans should NOT have to give up privacy. This time, it did not matter which image they saw. About two-thirds of all students (65%) said that Americans should not have to give up privacy and freedom to be safe from terrorism.
Yet, when students were asked to rank how important privacy is and how important terrorism prevention is, only 24% said privacy was “very important” while 77% said terrorism prevention was “very important”. These results demonstrate the importance of asking about the NSA using multiple questions. When students are forced to choose whether or not they should have to give up their privacy, they are more likely to say privacy is more important. But when asked separately about the topics given a simple ranking system, students will of course say that preventing terrorism is very important.
This representative poll of NCSU undergraduates ran from April 8th-11th, and has a sample size of 1,059 students. The response rate was 21%, with a margin of sampling error of +/- 2.95%.
Click on the link below to download a PDF of the results from the 2014 spring poll, and the spas file for the actual data. Feel free to email us if you have any questions.