NBC/WSJ poll: Most Americans worry surveillance will go too far

Updated
The National Security Agency (NSA) logo is shown on a computer screen inside the Threat Operations Center at the NSA in Fort Meade, Maryland, January 25,...
The National Security Agency (NSA) logo is shown on a computer screen inside the Threat Operations Center at the NSA in Fort Meade, Maryland, January 25,...
Jason Reed/Reuters

A clear majority of Americans worries that government surveillance programs will violate citizens’ privacy rights—far more than the number that fears the programs won’t go far enough to stop terrorism, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday afternoon.

Fifty-five percent of respondents to the survey said they’re more concerned that the U.S. will “go too far” and violate privacy, compared to just 36% who said they’re more concerned the government won’t go far enough in monitoring terrorists.

The result comes over a month after the leak by Edward Snowden of information about the government’s surveillance and data-gathering programs, and at a time when lawmakers are mulling a measure to that de-fund the National Security Agency”s data-collection program.

And it represents a dramatic shift from when the question was asked in December 2001, three months after the 9/11 attacks. At that time, 55% worried the U.S. wouldn’t go far enough, while just 31% worried it would go too far.

The survey also asked Americans’ their views on abortion, a topic that’s been prominent lately thanks to Republican efforts in several states to tighten abortion laws. Forty-four percent of respondents said they’d back banning abortions at least 20 weeks after fertilization, while 37% said they’d oppose it. Twelve states have passed laws banning abortions after 20 weeks. A recent Texas law also will impose regulations on the state’s abortion clinics that likely will force the vast majority to shut down, pro-choice advocates say.

The deep split over abortion appears not to have gone away. Forty-nine percent of Americans said it should be legal either always or most of the time. Forty-eight percent said it should be illegal either always or most of the time. But among the respondents who said the issue would be a top priority for lawmakers, 70% supported the “illegal” position, suggesting that those who feel most passionately about the issue are those on the anti-abortion side.

On social issues more broadly, 52% of respondents said they worry Republicans will go too far on social issues, including abortion and gay rights. For Democrats, that number was 44%.

(The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted July 17-21 of 1,000 adults (including 300 cell phone-only respondents), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. A full PDF of the poll is located here.)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that 56% of respondents to the survey said they’re more concerned that the U.S. will “go too far.” It was 55%. We regret the error.

NBC/WSJ poll: Most Americans worry surveillance will go too far

Updated