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Jun 13 2013

Warrantless Surveillance and Partisan Hypocrisy

A new Pew survey shows exactly what I would have predicted, that one’s views on illegal government surveillance often changes significantly depending on whether you support the party in the White House. Overall, 56% said they’re okay with the government tracking all our phone calls in order to stop terrorism.

A majority of Americans – 56% – say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, though a substantial minority – 41% – say it is unacceptable.

The political breakdown: Republicans support it 52% to 47%. Democrats support it 64% to 34%. But when asked the same question in 2006, when Bush was in the White House, the results flip almost completely. Then, Republicans favored it 75% to 23% and Democrats opposed it 61% to 37%.

pewpoll

I have zero respect for those who changed their views on either side of the partisan divide.

Update: A friend leaves this comment on Facebook, which I think is a good one:

I also think the polling flip-flop (aside from the obvious question wording nightmare) is just demonstrating how people use partisan affiliation as a heuristic. I think this is especially true of low-information voters who just go with their gut on who they trust (and what they glean from the tone of the media they encounter). Most people, regardless of partisan identification, don’t maintain a well-developed core ideological position on the Fourth Amendment. They just trust the government more when the party they identify with is in power.

But people who get paid to spout off on television about such things have no excuse. (Even if the same dynamic is at work – let the partisan affiliation determine where to point the outrage and then hang some principled-sounding BS arguments on it as camouflage. Seems to describe 98% of right-wing media.)

Fair point.

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  1. 1
    jesse

    Leaving aside the hypocrisy label, Nate Silver’s analysis is interesting:

    http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/domestic-surveillance-could-create-a-divide-in-the-2016-primaries/#more-40366

    TL; DR: partisanship explains a lot, but it’s worth noting that the “center” of support for the extensions of the Patriot Act is on the center-right. The most liberal members of Congress generally voted against it, and a smaller portion of the far right Republicans.

    There’s also the way these polls are worded. “Do you think the NSA should be able to listen to people’s phone calls to fight terrorism” is a different question than “Do you think the NSA should be able to listen to people’s phone calls” and will elicit a very different response which will break down differently politically, certainly in terms of party affiliation I would bet.

    This doesn’t mean that a lot of people don’t use party as a shorthand for who they trust with various powers. And I agree with your Facebook friend that a lot of people don’t give much thought to things like 4th Amendment rights. But an answer given because people don’t think about it is different from hypocrisy, which implies a willful disregard. For instance, a TV commentator who gets in a froth over Obama when a few years ago he was fine with Bush (or vice versa) is a different story.

    That said, there’s another interesting dynamic that Silver points out, which is that this kind of stuff may be a substantial wedge in intra-party politics in 2016.

    There’s another thought to consider: the Overton Window has moved a lot in the years since the Church Committee and Watergate. I think the terms of debate have moved into much more authoritarian territory than they were years ago. The very fact that there aren’t riots over the “kill list” is evidence of that. And I think that’s too bad. Especially when you have Obama, who is pretty terrible on a lot of civil liberties issues, being the less bad option (going by the candidate’s public statements).

  2. 2
    Catrambi

    Note that flip-flopping among Democrats was almost negligable (61%/64%), whereas flip-flopping among Republicans was massive (52%/75%).

    Let’s not make it a bipartisan problem when it’s demonstrably not.

  3. 3
    Raging Bee

    Another thing to consider: recent experience clearly shows that all this surveillance power is a LOT more dangerous when Republicans (basically a coalition of shamelessly greedy and power-hungry capitalists and just as shamelessly greedy and power-hungry Christian Taliban) are in charge of it. If you think recent revelations are scary, just imagine the same thing being done under Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Mutt Romney, Sarah Palin, or Peter King, with helpful advice from one of those fake “ex-terrorists” that Ed sometimes mentions for our entertainment.

  4. 4
    Ace of Sevens

    @2: You are comparing the wrong numbers. Approval among Democrats went from 37 to 64%. In absolute terms, that’s a bigger change than Republicans.

  5. 5
    Reginald Selkirk

    just imagine the same thing being done under Dick Cheney…

    I believe the currently-discussed programs were started under Bush-Cheney.

  6. 6
    Reginald Selkirk

    Accused robber wants NSA phone records to prove his innocence

    Terrance Brown is on trial for bank robbery. His cell phone provider, Metro PCS, doesn’t have records dating back to the robbery in 2010 that will allegedly prove his innocence. But his lawyer thinks the NSA must have…

  7. 7
    jesse

    BTW in all this I think the funniest thing is that the ad on the left is for Allen West. I know FtB doesn’t control the ads directly, but it is pretty funny to see that here.

  8. 8
    jesse

    And when I refresh the page it’s “Are you part neanderthal?” for a check your DNA outfit. Man, you could amuse yourself for hours this way… wait a minute…. D’OH!

  9. 9
    Catrambi

    @4

    Oh crap, reading fail.

  10. 10
    Catrambi

    Hah, I got an ad for “Wireless IP surveillance camera”. Love it.

  11. 11
    eric

    @5:

    I believe the currently-discussed programs were started under Bush-Cheney.

    Some sort of program like this probably got at least proposed even earlier. The NSA has had a serious problem distingishing US citizen communications from foreign ones since cell phones started being common. What 9/11 did was make Congress more amenable to approval of wide collection, but the idea of wide collection almost certainly didn’t start then. It started when the NSA figured out they had to look at call data before they colud figure out whether the caller/recipient was a foreinger or not.

  12. 12
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    I don’t care who’s in power, man, these NSA surveillance programs were (and are) WRONG.

  13. 13
    Don Williams

    1) I find it amusing that some here think the same Democrats who swallowed Bush/Cheney’s “smoking mushroom cloud” story for the invasion of Iraq are capable of overseeing the intelligence community.

    2) These systems are dangerous and Congress is incapable of controlling them. The systems provide the means for a turnkey tyranny at the opportune moment — the Reichstag Fire. Of course the Rich –and their buttkissing sycophants — see nothing wrong with that because they mistakenly think they will control and profit from the tyranny that rules the rabble. Check out the ancient Roman Senate and Tiberius to see how that works out.

    3) The problem is not mere stupidity — it is Congress’s intentional “purchased stupidity”. Anyone who wants to know why Senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and the New York Times laid down and spread their legs for George W’s intel argument on Iraq should take a look at Wikipedia’s entry for “Haim Saban”.

    The Republican fascists are not being opposed because the Israel Lobby billionaires who own the Democratic Party feel Al Qaeda crosshairs on their back. So they are willing to support creation of a Gestapo and
    a slow seque to the Fuhrer Principle.

  14. 14
    maddog1129

    I’m in the “get a warrant” crowd, always have been. And not that stupid secret FISA court either. If there is really anything worth listening to for a good purpose, you surely ought to be able to demonstrate at least probable cause to a regular, ordinary, iindependent magistrate.

  15. 15
    Don Williams

    1) Hmmm. News is reporting that NSA thinks Snowden smuggled out “thousands” of documents on a thumb drive. Which makes me suspect a few thousand “contractors” like Raymond Davis are heading to Hong Kong.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/06/us/john-millis-47-aide-in-congress.html
    (“apparently self-inflicted”. snicker)

    http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messages/2629/2014842.html

    2) And that Guardian reporter might want to stay away from high roofs and deep water for a while as well:

  16. 16
    aluchko

    I think a lot of high information voters use the trusted pundit heuristic as well, I’m definitely influenced by Ed Brayton and Andrew Sullivan though they differ on this debate. I think the main advantage I have in my opinions is access to better pundits.

    I think the problem is that indignant outrage is just too much fun and it’s hard for balanced analysis to win out. Even in FTB reading PZ always sets off alarm bells because he relies out outrage so much.

  17. 17
    Don Williams

    Re “high information voters” using “trusted pundits”, did Andrew Sullivan ever find those nukes of Saddam Hussein’s? The families of 4500 dead soldiers might like to know.

    http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/03/20/nostra-maxima-culpa-2/

  18. 18
    aluchko

    Well yeah :)

    One of the reasons I do trust Sullivan is he’s very open to self criticism, acknowledging his mistakes, and changing his views.

    Being influenced by them doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with them, it means I find them to be honest and non-hypocritical, I understand the filter the topic is being passed through so I still have an accurate perception of the events. ie I definitely don’t agree with Sullivan about religion but though him I learned a lot about the politics of the Catholic church and the new pope.

  19. 19
    Raging Bee

    I find it amusing that some here think the same Democrats who swallowed Bush/Cheney’s “smoking mushroom cloud” story for the invasion of Iraq are capable of overseeing the intelligence community.

    So put the Democrats who DIDN’T swallow it in charge. (And besides, Don, you’re not really in a position to complain about “swallowing stories.”)

  20. 20
    atheist

    Sullivan says intelligent things from time to time, but he’s too prone to racism and boneheaded conspiracy theories. I can never shake the suspicion that he still considers many Americans to be traitors, as he stated in October 2001.

  21. 21
    Don Williams

    Re aluchko at 18:

    Yes –normally one would have to read Matthew Yglesias’ blog to find insights with that depth and degree of knowledge.

    http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2009/07/21/193748/obama-underlines-importance-of-conference-committee/

    http://ww.theforvm.org/diary/catchy/yglesias-klein-and-silver-%E2%80%93-friends-these-%E2%80%A6

  22. 22
    Don Williams

    In fact, Andrew Sullivan is almost as asute as Ezra Klein:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/07/barack_obama_on_health-care_re.html
    “Does it have a serious public option in place? Those are the kind of benchmarks I’ll be using.”

    8 months later (Mar, 2010)
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/03/obama_promises_to_pursue_a_pub.html

    ha ha ha

  23. 23
    aluchko

    @atheist:20

    I’m not sure I’d call him racist for the bell curve stuff as much as a contrarian. Some truths are suppressed because they’re unpopular, therefore there’s a heuristic that gives unpopular ideas extra credence in proportion to their unpopularity. I think that’s what happened to Sullivan with the IQ/race debate.

    As for the Trig conspiracy stuff I don’t think he was directly endorsing the conspiracy theories. It was more the fact that Palin had given accounts of the birth and pregnancy that were both clearly contradictory and simply made no sense. She then made a big deal of saying she’d released the birth certificate or medical records when she hadn’t.

    It was more of “why are you not disproving this trivially disprovable conspiracy theory by doing something you claim to have already done, and why doesn’t the media point this out”.

    I half think Palin’s camp was deliberately baiting the left with the weird and contradictory narratives to make her more sympathetic and keep attention away from the weird stuff she did around the pregnancy.

    @Don Williams

    I don’t read Yglesias but I’m not sure what your point is. Yglesias’ considers himself a progressive but will disagree with the bulk of other progressives. Isn’t that a good thing?

  24. 24
    atheist

    @aluchko – June 13, 2013 at 11:38 pm (UTC -4)

    I’m not sure I’d call him racist for the bell curve stuff as much as a contrarian. Some truths are suppressed because they’re unpopular, therefore there’s a heuristic that gives unpopular ideas extra credence in proportion to their unpopularity. I think that’s what happened to Sullivan with the IQ/race debate.

    I prefer that people just state their opinion based on what they actually think, rather than try to be “contrarian” or give extra creedence to unpopular ideas simply because they are unpopular. Your mileage may vary.

  25. 25
    dingojack

    A little OT, but it’s been swirling around in my mind since this topic first came up:

    People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”
    Ben Franklin.

    Dingo

  26. 26
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    aluchko #23:

    I don’t read Yglesias but I’m not sure what your point is. Yglesias’ considers himself a progressive but will disagree with the bulk of other progressives. Isn’t that a good thing?

    Would you consider it a good thing if there were a prominent blogger who considered themselves a skeptic but disagreed with the bulk of other skeptics on, say…vaccination, homeopathy, reiki, global warming, and evolution?

  27. 27
    dingojack

    It’s also worth noting that:

    (I am assuming the total result is considered to be the expected result in both cases).

    Approval of NSA ‘listening in’:
    Jan 2006
    Republican voters were far above the expected result (χ² = 11.294; 12.255. < 0.1% chance)
    Democratic voters were significantly below the expected (χ² = 3.843; 4.17. ≈ 5% chance)
    Independents were near the expected (χ² = 0.961; 1.362. ≈; 30% chance).

    Jun 2013
    Republicans were near the expected (χ² = 0.286; 0.878. ≈; 50% chance)
    Democrats were above the expected, but not significantly (χ² = 1.143; 1.195. ≈; 30% chance)
    Independents were near the expected (χ² = 0.161; 0.22. ≈ 66% chance.).

    When it’s a Republican in charge, the Republicans are enthusiastic about swapping security for freedom, the Democrats are quite strongly against it. When it’s a Democrat in charge the Republicans follow the herd, the Democrats are mildly supportive (relative to overall support remember).
    Therefore Republicans are more partisan in their support or disapproval* than Democrats.

    Dingo
    ——–
    * assuming this is the only factor being considered, without any other kind of confounding variable.

  28. 28
    Nick Gotts

    It started when the NSA figured out they had to look at call data before they colud figure out whether the caller/recipient was a foreinger or not.

    Foreigners, of course, have no right to privacy whatsoever.

  29. 29
    abb3w

    There’s one more key difference: the Obama-era version of the question wording says the NSA were “getting secret court orders”, while the Bush-era question said it was done “without court approval”. That might well account for a nontrivial chunk of the Democratic flip-flop (though it makes the GOP flip-flop seem worse); contrariwise, it probably doesn’t account for all of it.

    Ed also seems to have omitted a link the the Pew report.

  30. 30
    aluchko

    @atheist

    I prefer that people just state their opinion based on what they actually think, rather than try to be “contrarian” or give extra creedence to unpopular ideas simply because they are unpopular. Your mileage may vary.

    I’m not sure that people’s brains make as big a distinction as you claim. The contrarian doesn’t mean he believes something because it’s unpopular, but it means he might poke the topic with a stick to see what happens, and if he has a hunch he’ll explore it even though it’s controversial.

    Imagine you’re in the same position and run across some very persuasive evidence that there is some genetic basis to the race/IQ correlation. How do you deal with that?

    @Setár, genderqueer Elf-Sheriff of Atheism+

    Would you consider it a good thing if there were a prominent blogger who considered themselves a skeptic but disagreed with the bulk of other skeptics on, say…vaccination, homeopathy, reiki, global warming, and evolution?

    Completely different, vaccination, homeopathy, reiki, global warming, and evolution are all established science and any well informed rational individual should be in agreement on all of them. But this was about health care and economics. I’m from Canada and I really like our public health care, but is public health care or a public option the best idea for the US? I don’t know, it’s a legitimate empirical question and there’s lots of well informed rational economists and other relevant experts on both sides of the issue.

    Frankly I’d say your statement is an example of the issue Ed is talking about. You’re treating any divergence from the party line as a compete betrayal and sign of insanity. Yes Yglesias endorsing creationism would be a massive red flag and betrayal, but trying to achieve universal coverage via private insurance? That might actually be a really good system.

  1. 31
    theCL Report: The Scowling Face of the State

    [...] Warrantless Surveillance and Partisan Hypocrisy [...]

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