The Angus Reid Global poll, which tracked opinions in the U.S., Canada and Britain, found Americans fairly evenly divided when given the traitor/hero choice, with 51 percent leaning to hero and 49 percent to traitor.
Respondents were given only two options to choose from – whether they regard the former NSA contractor as “something of a hero who should be commended for letting the public know that our governments are running electronic surveillance programs that threaten people’s privacy,” or as “more of a traitor who should be condemned for publicizing security activities and threatening western intelligence operations.”
Political party affiliation made virtually no difference on this point – respondents who supported the Democratic Party in 2012 split 49-52 while Republicans split 48-52.
But when asked broader questions on surveillance and privacy, the gaps widened significantly: Seventy percent of Republicans called mass electronic surveillance unacceptable, a view shared with just 46 percent of Democrats.
And 89 percent of Republicans said they do not trust the Obama administration to be “a good guardian of citizens’ personal information,” compared to 32 percent of Democrats.
Asked how they expect the government would use the information it gathers, 21 percent of all Americans polled said it would be used for “strictly national security/anti-terrorism efforts,” while 49 percent said it would ultimately be used for “any purposes the government chooses.”
That skepticism was even more evident in the political affiliation breakdown, with 58 percent of Republicans said the government would use the information for any purpose it chooses, compared to 32 percent of Democrats.
Classified material leaked to media organizations by Snowden since the summer have alleged large-scale surveillance around the world of electronic communication systems, including the monitoring of foreign leaders and international organizations.
The disclosures have upset relationships with some U.S. allies, and Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said this week the committee would begin “a major review into all intelligence collection programs.”
Snowden remains in Russia, where he has been given temporary asylum.
The Angus Reid poll found somewhat greater sympathy for Snowden in Canada and Britain than in the U.S., with 67 percent of Canadians and 60 percent of Britons viewing him as a hero, and 33 percent and 40 percent respectively as a traitor.
Respondents in the three countries were also asked about the trade-off between security and privacy.
Given the option of “security and anti-terrorism efforts mean we may sometimes have to infringe on civil liberties such as personal information privacy” or “security and anti-terrorism concerns do not justify weakening civil liberties such as personal information privacy,” Britons (60 percent) were most likely to agree that security justifies some infringement, followed by Americans (54 percent) and Canadians (49 percent).
On that question, 61 percent of Democrats said that security justifies some infringement, compared to 56 percent of Republicans.