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Public Remains Divided About Wiretapping Controversy

Public Remains Divided About Wiretapping Controversy

Forty-nine percent think Bush broke the law

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Politicians and media pundits, among others, continue to question the legality of a Bush administration practice of conducting warrantless surveillance of telephone conversations between U.S. citizens living in the United States and suspected terrorists living in other countries. Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the practice before the Senate Judiciary committee, but his answers failed to satisfy many members of the committee. Public attention on the wiretapping controversy remains high, and opinion on the matter remains divided and has not changed in recent weeks.

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Feb. 9-12, finds 73% of Americans saying they are following the matter closely, including 32% who report following it "very closely." Those percentages have been fairly consistent since early January.

The poll also finds essentially no change in the public's views about the matter. Forty-seven percent believe the Bush administration was right in wiretapping the telephone conversations without getting a court order, while 50% say it was wrong to do so. In late January, 46% said the administration was right and 51% wrong. In early January, Americans were slightly more inclined to say the Bush administration was right (50%) than wrong (46%).

Those who are following the controversy most closely tend to believe the Bush administration was wrong to authorize the wiretaps, but their opinions have not differed dramatically from the rest of the population in the last two polls.

View of Wiretap Controversy Based on
How Closely Following It

Very closely

Somewhat/not closely

Right

Wrong

Right

Wrong

%

%

%

%

Feb 9-12

47

51

47

49

Jan 20-22

45

53

46

50

Jan 6-8

43

57

53

42

Last week's hearings show that most Republican senators on the judiciary committee support the administration on the wiretapping program, while most Democratic senators oppose. That same dynamic holds in the general population -- 80% of Republicans currently believe the Bush administration was right to engage in the wiretapping program, while just 43% of independents and 25% of Democrats agree. Sixty-four percent of self-identified conservatives believe the administration was right, as do 47% of moderates and 16% of liberals.

Did Bush Break the Law?

A separate question asking specifically whether President George W. Bush himself broke the law also shows a divided public. Forty-nine percent of Americans believe Bush definitely (23%) or probably (26%) broke the law, while 47% say he definitely (23%) or probably (24%) did not.

Based on what you have heard or read, do you think George W. Bush -- [ROTATED: definitely broke the law, probably broke the law, probably did not break the law, (or) definitely did not break the law]?

BASED ON 508 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B


Definitely
broke
the law


Probably
broke
the law

Probably
did not
break the law

Definitely
did not
break the law



No
opinion

2006 Feb 9-12

23%

26

24

23

3

Opinion about the legality of Bush's actions varies widely by political affiliation. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats believe Bush broke the law, compared with 58% of independents and 16% of Republicans.

Did Bush Wiretapping Break Law?

Democrats

Independents

Republicans

2006 Feb 9-12

%

%

%

Broke the law

77

58

16

Definitely

44

25

3

Probably

33

33

13

Did not break the law

21

40

80

Definitely

7

13

50

Probably

14

27

30

Total respondents

140

197

168

Similarly, 80% of liberals believe Bush broke the law, compared with 55% of moderates and just 26% of conservatives.

How Widespread Is Wiretapping?

The program is controversial mainly because it involves the wiretapping of phone calls involving U.S. residents and because the wiretaps were done without court orders. To get a sense of whether the program might affect them personally, the poll asked Americans how likely it is that any of their telephone conversations were ever wiretapped. Twenty-one percent say it is very (8%) or somewhat likely (13%) that this has happened to them, while 24% say it is not too likely and 52% say it is not at all likely.

Liberals (30%) are nearly twice as likely as conservatives (16%) to believe this has happened to them. Democrats (24%) and independents (25%) are more likely than Republicans (13%) to think that they have been wiretapped.

Americans who are paying more attention to the controversy are no more or less likely to believe they have been wiretapped than those not paying much attention to it.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,000 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-12, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

10. Just your best guess, how likely is it that the federal government has ever wiretapped any of your telephone conversations -- very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?

Very
likely

Somewhat
likely

Not too
likely

Not at all
likely

No
opinion

2006 Feb 9-12

8%

13

24

52

3

19. As you may know, the Bush administration has been wiretapping telephone conversations between U.S. citizens living in the United States and suspected terrorists living in other countries without getting a court order allowing it to do so. How closely have you been following the news about this -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

Very
closely

Somewhat
closely

Not too
closely

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2006 Feb 9-12

32

41

18

8

*

2006 Jan 20-22

31

38

17

12

1

2006 Jan 6-8

29

46

16

9

*

* Less than 0.5%

20. Do you think the Bush administration was right or wrong in wiretapping these conversations without obtaining a court order?

BASED ON 492 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

Right

Wrong

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Feb 9-12 ^

47

50

3

2006 Jan 20-22 ^

46

51

3

2006 Jan 6-8

50

46

4

^ Asked of a half sample

21. Based on what you have heard or read, do you think George W. Bush -- [ROTATED: definitely broke the law, probably broke the law, probably did not break the law, (or) definitely did not break the law]?

BASED ON 508 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B


Definitely broke the law


Probably broke the law

Probably did not break the law

Definitely did not break the law



No
opinion

2006 Feb 9-12

23%

26

24

23

3

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