As you might have heard, the United States government and Apple are currently at odds. Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino attackers, had an iPhone that is password protected and federal prosecutors want access. They say the iPhone used by Farook may contain valuable insight into other terrorist activities and maintain that Apple has an obligation to unlock the iPhone. Apple, meanwhile, has rejected this demand, arguing that the government is asking for a “backdoor” into their iPhone encryption software that could possibly allow them to access any iPhone they wish in the future, for any reason.
The debate has garnered a lot of publicity because the government request is unprecedented, and in the aftermath of the Snowden whistleblowing incident, Americans (NCSU students included) are wary about giving up their privacy and freedom in order to combat terrorism. Apple executives say they are worried that honoring the government’s request would set a precedent that would allow it to make similar requests of other technological companies in cases not directly related to national security. As this debate is playing out in the public sphere, public opinion polls have produced conflicting results. Some polls indicate Americans side with the federal government while others suggest the opposite.
Our latest PackPoll examines NC State students opinions about this issue. We randomly assigned students to one of two ways this question has been asked of the larger American public. Half received the question wording used by Pew that stresses the importance of the iPhone in the FBI’s investigation. The other half received the question wording from Reuters that highlights the precedent that this could set for future cases that might not involve national security.
We found, regardless of the question wording, The Wolfpack is more supportive of Apple’s decision to not comply with the federal government’s request. When asking the PEW’s version of the Apple question, 50% thought Apple should not unlock the iPhone, and just 29% said Apply should unlock it.
The Reuters version generated 59% support for Apple’s decision, accompanied by just 23% opposition to it. These differences suggest framing the question as a privacy issue increases support for Apple.
Students who identified as Democrats were more likely to support Apple no matter which question wording was used. 55% of Democrats said that Apple should NOT unlock the iPhone, compared to 41% of Republicans who said the same. And 66% of Democrats agreed with Apple’s decision to oppose the court order, compared to 55% of Republicans.
NOTE ON METHDOLOGY: This “Big Poll” took place March 13-15, 2016. The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 4,500 NCSU undergraduates, generating a 20% response rate for completed surveys. Sampling error is +/-3.3% for completed interviews and questions asked of the full sample; it is higher for sub-groups and questions asked of only portions of the full sample.
In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We did not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample (primarily by gender), but weighting would only have minor effects on the results we report here (our sample is 51% male when men are 56% of the NCSU undergraduate student body).
Click here to see a PDF file for the full set of results: Spring2016BigPollToplines
Feel free to email us if you have any questions.