By a roughly two-to-one margin, Americans say they are willing to give up personal privacy to let the federal government investigate terror threats, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. And amid growing concerns over terrorism, President Obama draws mixed review for his handling of the issue.
Since the Sept. 11 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, large majorities have said the federal government should investigate possible terrorist threats, even if it intrudes on personal privacy. But that majority had shrunk significantly since 2010, falling to 57 percent in 2013 after the revelations of domestic National Security Agency surveillance by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In that poll, a record-high 39 percent said government should not intrude on privacy, even if it limits the ability to investigate possible threats.
In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and the rise of the Islamic State threat in Iraq over the summer, the public has reverted to a somewhat stronger stance of protection over freedom, by 63 percent to 32 percent.
In a rare streak of bipartisanship, there is virtually no distance between Republicans and Democrats on this issue. Roughly seven in 10 Democrats and Republicans alike prioritize the investigation of threats over personal privacy (71 and 68 percent, respectively). Even liberal Democrats, by 62-34 percent, side with investigation over privacy. Political independents drop to 56 percent preferring investigation.
Younger adults are the only group expressing mixed feelings on this issue, splitting 48 percent for investigating threats against 47 percent wanting privacy. Big majorities of those over age 30 side with investigation, going up to 75 percent for senior citizens.
Driving these opinions in part are the increasing concerns over the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the United States. Seventy-six percent now say they are concerned about this, up from 71 percent who were at least somewhat concerned in October and higher than Post-ABC polls asking a similar question over the past decade.
Judgments of Obama's handling of terrorism -- long a strong suit for the president -- have narrowed to a split decision. Forty-seven percent approve of his job in this area, and 45 percent disapprove. That is a very slight improvement from a December poll, when his rating was 43 percent approval to 48 percent disapproval.
Unlike the question on investigating threats, partisan reactions play a big role in opinions of the president. Seven in 10 Democrats approve of his handling it, while just 18 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of independents approve.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 12-15 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults reached on both conventional and cellular phones. Results from the survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
More results from the poll will be released on Monday, in advance of President Obama's State of the Union speech.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.