...even if folks inside the Beltway don't. According to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans (63%) support the recently disclosed NSA program which collects data on phone calls made in the United States, in an effort to locate potential terrorists.
Some of the poll's findings are bound to dismay administration critics and the civil liberties crowd. Everyone from Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson to the ACLU have expressed strong misgivings about the program, which gives the NSA access to calling records from at least three of the nation's largest phone companies, Bell South, Verizon and AT&T. However, the American people apparently "get it," even if the pundit class doesn't. Some interesting results from the poll:
--Almost half of those surveyed (44%) expressed strong support for the program; the 63% figure represents the total percentage of respondents who consider the NSA program an acceptable way to investigate terrorism.
-- A slightly larger majority (66%) said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made.
-- Another solid majority (65%) said it was more important to investigate terrorism, even if it intrudes on privacy. Only 30% said it was more important to protect privacy, even if it limits our investigative efforts
-- Over half (51%) approve of the way President Bush is handling privacy matters.
-- Only 24% of the poll's respondents "strongly object" to the program.
The previously classified program was disclosed just days before CIA nominee, General Michael Hayden, is scheduled to begin his confirmation hearings. It doesn't take a political operative to see that this latest "leak" was designed to embarass General Hayden, who ran the NSA when the program was created.
This poll is encouraging in several respects. First, it demonstrates that the American people have a deeper understanding of the war on terrorism--and what needs to be done--than most politicians and pundits give them credit for. Secondly, it suggests that General Hayden may have an easier time in his confirmation hearings than first believed. Senate critics may want to review the poll before using the hearings to air their gripes on NSA's surveillance efforts. The American people clearly don't have a problem with these programs, and senators placing themselves squarely against these efforts (and General Hayden) run the risk of alienating voters, in an election year.
Finally, there's actually some good political news in the poll for President Bush. On a day when another survey places his overall approval rating at 29%, the ABC/WaPo poll proves that the American people will support President Bush, when he does the right thing. If Mr. Bush would offer viable plans for securing the borders and addressing other critical issues, he would see his poll numbers rise, not decline.