Released: February 02, 2006

Voters Balance Privacy, Surveillance

Support for surveillance measures, government secrecy down from 9/11 aftermath, new Zogby Interactive poll shows

The President’s vigorous defense of an anti-terror surveillance program may be a hard sell to a public obsessed with privacy and civil liberties, a new Zogby Interactive poll suggests.

The survey of 13,456 likely voters finds Americans largely unwilling to surrender civil liberties even if its to prevent terrorists from carrying out attacks a significant departure from their views in the months immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks. Even routine security measures, like random searches of bags, purses, and other packages, were opposed by half (50%) of respondents in the survey.

Other measures fared worse. Just 37% would be willing to allow random searches of their cars a dramatic drop in support compared to a survey conducted by Zogby International in December, 2001. Support for regular roadblocks to facilitate such searches was even lower, with just one-third of voters (33%) in favor. Four years ago, 59% backed such measures.

Two sensitive privacy issues associated with the Presidents communications surveillance program, however, scored worst of all. Just 28% are willing to allow their telephone conversations to be monitored, and 25% favor allowing random searches of mail.

Self-described conservatives are far more supportive of the security measures than self-described liberals, as the chart here indicates.

Overall Level of support Dec. 2001

Overall Level of support NOW

Conserva-tives NOW

Liberals NOW

Allowing your purse, handbag, briefcase, backpack, or packages to be searched at random anywhere (e.g. while shopping, entering and exiting public buildings)





Allowing your car to be searched at random





Allowing your mail to be searched at random





Allowing your telephone conversations to be monitored





Allowing video surveillance of public places, like street corners and neighborhoods





Allowing regular roadblocks to search vehicles





Despite the opposition to such measures, the voting public is at ease with some already commonplace anti-terror tools. Seven out of 10 indicated they would favor allowing video surveillance of public places, including street corners and neighborhoods a drop from the 82% who favored this in the 2001 poll, but still a large majority. And while 44% supported random searches of purses, handbags, briefcases, backpacks and other packages, it represents a 19-point drop in support since 2001.

Significantly, voters responding to the survey seemed generally supportive of government secrecy in the war on terror. Nearly half (45%) favored at least a great deal of secrecy. An additional 42% indicated they would support some secrecy. Just 12% were willing to accept absolutely no secrecy on the part of the government in wartime. However, in a troubling sign for the Administration, these numbers mark a significant slide from October 2001, when nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) would accept at least a great deal of government secrecy.

How much government secrecy are you willing to accept during wartime?


Oct. 2001

Absolute secrecy



Great deal of secrecy



Some secrecy



No secrecy



The survey revealed that different demographic groups hold decidedly different views on government surveillance and civil liberties. Married and older respondents tended to be more willing to accept government secrecy than their counterparts, as did small city and rural dwellers and those with household ties to the military. Men supported government secrecy more than women. And as noted above, there was a stark partisan component to responses: While 86% of Republicans were willing to accept significant government secrecy, just 12% of Democrats said the same. Independents, meanwhile, split the difference, with 37% willing to support high levels of government secrecy.

Similar trends played out on the questions of surrendering civil liberties in trade for protection from terror.

Fewer Than Two-in-Five Say Americans Have Post-9/11 Mindset

The survey finds strong doubts that Americans have moved beyond Sept. 10, 2001 in their thinking.  Just 38% of respondents indicated they believed Americans had adopted a post-9/11 mentality, while 30% said Americans were still living in a pre-9/11 world. 

Considering the political parties: 61% said the GOP has adopted a “post 9/11 mindset,” while just 27% said the same about the Democratic Party.

The interactive survey of 13,456 likely voters nationwide was conducted Jan. 27 through 30.  It has a margin of error of +/- 0.9 percentage points.

For Zogby Interactive methodology, please go to:



[ Click Here For Methodology ]


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