January 22, 2014

Most young Americans say Snowden has served the public interest

Young adults are significantly more supportive than their elders of Edward Snowden and his leaks of classified details of the National Security Agency’s telephone and internet surveillance programs, a new Pew Research Center/USA TODAY survey finds.Edward Snowden Meets With German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Stroebele In MoscowFT_14.01.21_Snowden_2 (1)

57% of 18- to 29-year olds said the leaks have served rather than harmed the public interest — almost exact mirrors of the 65-and-over age group. These youngest adults were the only age group without majority support for prosecuting Snowden — they split 42%-42% on whether the former NSA contractor should be tried. (Snowden was charged in June 2013 with three criminal counts related to the leaks, though he’s apparently not yet been formally indicted.)

But when it comes to the programs themselves, there’s much less difference between age groups. Young adults express similar levels of disapproval about the NSA surveillance programs Snowden disclosed than older groups: 59% of 18- to 29-year-olds, compared with about half of adults ages 50 and over. And about half of each age group say there aren’t adequate limits on what phone and internet data the government can collect.FT_14.01.21_Snowden_1

The divide between younger and older people on Snowden and his leaks resembles the attitudinal split more than three years ago following the Wikileaks release of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. In a December 2010 Pew Research survey, 39% of young adults said the Wikileaks disclosures served the public interest and 40% said they had harmed it; adults 65 and over overwhelmingly (65% to 24%) said the Wikileaks disclosures harmed the public interest.

More generally, strong majorities of all age groups agree that “Americans shouldn’t have to give up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism.” But people younger than 50 were significantly more supportive of that position than 50-and-overs were.

Topics: National Security, Surveillance

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. billy-bob4 years ago

    I consider Snowden to be a hero (and I ain’t no youngster). In fact, I believe he deserves a medal of freedom for his actions. What he did required monstrous courage. His decision to reveal the out-of-control, world-wide spying operations of the most powerful nation on the planet has endangered his life and freedom. I don’t believe this was a decision he made lightly (judging by his caution around approaching Glen Greenwald), and I’m sure he understood the ramifications. Snowden represents freedom. Obama and the spies represent the worst aspects of oligarchy, empire, and autocratic control.

  2. Packard Day4 years ago

    I would not read too much into this particular poll. I suspect the results are much less about trusting Edward Snowden than they are about a growing distrust for the likes of Barrack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. While the latter two individuals have committed blatant acts perjury before congress on separate occasions this past year, it is the President alone who has chosen to keep these two tainted men in their respective offices. Corruption is thy name.

    1. James Cameron4 years ago

      > I would not read too much into this particular poll. I suspect the results are much less about trusting Edward Snowden

      I think the poll speaks for itself . . .

      1. bob4 years ago

        I agree with your call on this poll. I don’t necessarily trust Snowden, but given what we learned, my mistrust of Obama administration is growing. Snowden’s transgressions seem almost the right thing to do, despite leak of security info. Even this I question government statements of this data, the size and importance.
        As to Obama administration, their take on honesty and truth is unique. They depend on a loyal and supportive base to get away with many of their missteps, not to mention an active information machine to help the press see it their way. It seems one hears almost the same statements word for word at times concerning Obama info from their loyal and supportive media friends.