Americans overwhelmingly want to see Congress renew the law enabling the government to collect data on the public’s telephone calls in bulk, though they are split on whether allowing that law to expire increases the risk of terrorism in the U.S.
With the provisions of the Patriot Act which allow the National Security Administration to collect data on Americans’ phone calls newly expired, a new CNN/ORC poll finds 61% of Americans think the law ought to be renewed, including majorities across party lines, while 36% say it should not be reinstated.
Republican leaders in the Senate are working to pass a bill to reinstate the law, after delays led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), whose presidential campaign has been noted for its appeal to independent voters and younger Republicans, and other surveillance opponents led to the law’s expiration at 12:01 a.m. Monday. But Paul’s stance on the issue is unlikely to bring him many fans within his own party.
Support for renewal peaks among Republicans, 73% of whom back the law. Democrats largely agree, with 63% saying the law should be renewed. Independents are least apt to back it, with 55% saying renew it and 42% let it expire. Liberals, regardless of partisan affiliation, are most likely to say the law should not be renewed, 50% say so while 48% want to see it renewed.
About half of Americans, 52%, say that if the law is not renewed, the risk of terrorism here in the U.S. would remain about the same. Still, a sizable 44% minority feel that without the law, the risk of terrorism will rise. Just 3% feel it would decrease.
The sense that the risk will rise is greatest among Republicans, 61% of whom say the risk of terrorism will climb if the NSA is unable to collect this data. Among Democrats and independents, less than half feel the risk of terrorism would increase if the program ended.
The poll reveals a steep generational divide on the data collection program. Among those under age 35, just 25% say the risk of terrorism would increase without NSA data collection. That more than doubles to 60% among those age 65 or older. Those under age 35 are also split on whether the law should be renewed at all, 50% say it should be renewed while 49% say it should not. Among those age 35 or older, 65% back renewal of the law.
President Barack Obama’s reviews for handling government surveillance of U.S. citizens have worsened since June 2013 when the NSA data collection program was first revealed. Overall, 67% say they disapprove of the president’s handling of government surveillance of U.S. citizens, up from 61% in June 2013.
Much of that decline comes among his fellow partisans. In June 2013, 61% of Democrats approved of the president’s handling of surveillance issues, that has fallen to 49% in the new poll.
Obama fares better on his handling of terrorism generally, 45% approve and 51% disapprove.
The CNN/ORC Poll was conducted by telephone May 29-31 among a random national sample of 1,025 adults. The margin of sampling error for results based on the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points.