Lies, Damned Lies, and FISA Polling

Newt Gingrich’s organization recently released a poll purporting to show that Americans overwhelmingly support renewing the Protect America Act. But as a blogger at the Economist painstakingly explains, the high levels of support might be because the poll blatantly misrepresented what’s at stake in the surveillance debate.

Amazingly, even the first four words of the story, “in July of 2007,” are inaccurate, as the Protect America Act was actually passed in August. And it only gets worse after that. Not surprisingly, if you repeatedly misrepresent the state of the FISA debate, it’s possible to get randomly sampled voters to come to the conclusion you’re looking for. I think it’s telling that they seem to believe this level of deception was necessary to get the result they were looking for.

In case you’re curious how voters respond to a less blatantly biased poll, 61 percent of voters believe that “the U.S. government should have to get a warrant from a court before wiretapping the conversations U.S. citizens have with people in other countries,” while only 35 percent believe that “the government should be able to wiretap such conversations without a warrant from a court.” Similarly, 31 percent of voters believe that “Congress should give the phone companies amnesty from legal action against the companies,” while 59 percent believe that “citizens who believe their rights have been violated should be free to take legal action against those phone companies and let the courts decide the outcome.” That poll is from the ACLU, so it may be worth taking with a grain of salt, but its questions are certainly more representative than those of Gingrich’s group.