The Washington Post

How the public is unhappy with surveillance but unmoved, in one chart

President Obama unveiled new limits Friday on the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance efforts.

In doing so, he addressed an issue on which the public opinion can be summed up like this: We don't like what we see, but it's not that big a deal for the government to address compared to other things.

Recent Gallup polling shows a couple of notable points: 1) A clear majority of Americans (63 percent) say they are dissatisfied with the state of the nation as it pertains to government surveillance of U.S. citizens and 2) It ranks low on the list of priorities they'd like to see Congress and the president address in the next year. Just 42 percent  say it is an extremely or very important priority — placing it lower than more than a dozen other matters.

Here's a visual representation of this reality, via Gallup:


Only the state of the nation regarding the economy, poverty and homelessness are held in lower regard by the public than surveillance of Americans. And only abortion, race relations and acceptance of gays and lesbians are seen as lower priorities for Congress and Obama to deal with.

None of this is to say that the revelations about government surveillance have not been a big deal and that a lot of Americans aren't going to look closely at what Obama just said.

It's just that while the issue has received a lot attention, it's simply not a something-must-be-done-right-now issue in the eyes of the public.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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Sean Sullivan · January 17, 2014

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