Fresh disclosures that the National Security Agency broke privacy rules threatens to fuel Americans fast-growing concerns about civil liberties. But the surprising partisan consensus that programs trample on privacy marks a key feature of public assessments, representing a break from similar debates during George W. Bush’s presidency.
A July Washington Post-ABC News poll — before the latest disclosures reported by The Post — found fully 70 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans said the NSA’s phone and Internet surveillance program intrudes on some Americans’ privacy rights. What’s more, Democrats and Republicans who did see intrusions were about equally likely to say they were “not justified:” 51 and 52 percent respectively. Nearly six in 10 political independents who saw intrusions said they are unjustified.
There was less partisan agreement in 2006, when news about the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program broke. That January, a Post-ABC poll found 73 percent of Democrats — but only 50 percent of Republicans — said federal agencies were intruding on some Americans’ privacy rights.
The current agreement is striking given how far apart Democrats and Republicans stand on views of President Obama and virtually all other political issues, but it also marks a return to the year following the Sept. 11, 200, terrorist attacks, when overwhelming majorities in both camps prioritized terrorism investigations over invasions of personal privacy.
The agreement did not last long, as Democrats’ privacy concerns rose sharply in 2006 while Republicans maintained focus on investigations. But that commitment has waned in the past two years to nearly match Democrats: In the July Post-ABC poll, 32 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of Republicans said it’s more important to avoid privacy intrusions.
The latest Post-ABC poll was conducted July 18 to 21 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. Results from the full poll have an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.
Polling manager Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.