Unlike media, public worries more about spying Snowden exposed than secrets he leaked

It’s unwise to put too much weight on polls, but a recent survey on the Edward Snowden affair suggests better judgment among the general public than our usual opinion leaders have been able to muster.

The national survey of U.S. voters by Quinnipiac University found that by a huge margin—55 to 34 percent—respondents considered Snowden, the former National Security Agency contract employee, to be a whistleblower, not a traitor.

In what the pollsters call “a massive shift in attitudes,” voters also said the government was going “too far” in its anti-terrorism program—a dramatic swing from a January 2010 poll in which respondents, 63-25, said the government wasn’t doing enough to safeguard the country.

Not all polls agree. A Pew/Washington Post survey conducted in June found 56 percent of respondents thought routinely tracking hundreds of millions of phone records was acceptable.  But even there, support for Internet monitoring was weak. By 52-45 percent, respondents rejected allowing the government to “monitor everyone’s email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks.”

Apparently the Snowden affair sits atop a fault line in public opinion, with a substantial number of people disgruntled and suspicious about the sweeping surveillance he exposed.

Coverage of that rumbling has until recently been muted, largely because the protest has lacked the kind of high-profile champions that reassure the media that a cause is respectable and legitimate. Last week’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee may signal a change, with lawmakers from both parties clearly piqued and warning administration representatives that they must scale back their more intrusive practices.

Still, that criticism hasn’t affected the overall flavor of Snowden coverage, which keys off unremittingly harsh comments and relentless administration pressure to get him repatriated for trial. House Speaker John Boehner called him “a traitor,”  Continue reading “Unlike media, public worries more about spying Snowden exposed than secrets he leaked”