Fifty-five percent of registered American voters consider former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to be a whistleblower, and only 34 percent call him a traitor - despite US lawmakers labeling him as such.
A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that the majority of Americans perceive Snowden as a man who exposed the inappropriate surveillance tactics of the US government - not as a man who betrayed his duty.
“The verdict that Snowden is not a traitor goes against almost the unified view of the nation’s political establishment,” Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute, said in a press release.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), have vilified Snowden, calling him a traitor for revealing classified national security information. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called his actions "treason," and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) argued that Snowden is dangerous.
“He’s no hero. He put people’s lives at risk,” King told reporters in June.
But according to the Quinnipiac poll, lawmakers’ views are out of line with those of the American public. In light of recent revelations regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance tactics, more voters have expressed their discontent with the US government. Fifty-five percent of poll respondents consider Snowden to be a whistleblower, while only 34 percent consider him a traitor.
Favorability toward Snowden was highest among Independents, with 58 percent of them calling him a whistleblower. Fifty-five percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Democrats referred to him as such.
Poll results also show that 45 percent of voters believe the government has gone too far in restricting civil liberties as part of its anti-terrorism initiatives. A similar survey from January 2010 found that only 25 percent of Americans believed that the government’s anti-terrorism initiatives went far enough or too far.
“The massive swing in public opinion about civil liberties and governmental anti-terrorism efforts, and the public view that Edward Snowden is more whistle-blower than traitor, are the public reaction and apparent shock at the extent to which the government has gone in trying to prevent future terrorist incidents,” Brown said, emphasizing that both Democrats and Republicans are evenly divided on whether US counter-terrorism measures have gone too far.
“The fact that there is little difference now along party lines about the overall anti-terrorism effort and civil liberties and about Snowden is in itself unusual in a country sharply divided along political lines about almost everything,” he added.
Other polls have shown that more Americans disapprove than approve of Snowden’s actions, but the Quinnipiac poll suggests that public opinion may be shifting as more information on the NSA’s surveillance tactics becomes available. The university surveyed 2,014 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percent.
“The change in public attitudes has been extraordinary, almost across the board and obviously not just related to the revelation of the phone-scanning program, given all that has transpired since 2010,” Brown said. “Yet it would be naïve to see these numbers as anything but evidence of a rethinking by the public about the tradeoffs between security and freedom.”
The US is trying to extradite Snowden, who has reportedly been staying in the international transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the NSA story, said on Tuesday that Venezuela is the “most likely” asylum choice for the former US intelligence contractor.
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