Gallup: Americans' Views of TSA More Positive Than Negative

Discussion in 'Aviation Passenger Security in the USA' started by Mike, Aug 8, 2012.

  1. TSA News Blog

    TSA News Blog News Feed

    Kirti-Poddar.jpg

    In the course of my lifetime I’ve had more than a passing acquaintance with ham sandwiches. To my knowledge, not a single one has ever committed a crime.
    Yet Sol Wachtler, former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, famously quipped that a grand jury would “indict a ham sandwich” if that’s what you wanted. Wachtler had so little faith in the grand jury system that in 1985 he proposed doing away with it completely. New York has yet to do so, but in their hearts most lawyers agree with Wachtler. Whenever they’re accused of a crime, they invariably invoke the “ham sandwich defense,” as former House Speaker Tom Delay did when he was indicted on ethics charges in 2004.
    I thought about Wachtler as I read a new report from Gallup, the polling company, this week. Bill Fisher has already written an excellent analysis of the poll, which I wholeheartedly endorse, but I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own.
    According to Gallup, 54% of the U.S. public thinks the TSA is doing either an excellent or a good job of handling security screening at airports. At the same time, 41% think TSA screening procedures are extremely or very effective at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplanes, with most of the rest saying they are “somewhat effective.” Gallup surveyed 1,014 adults, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.
    On its face, that seems pretty damning to the TSA’s critics, and I’d wager that the agency will soon seize on these results as evidence that things are just fine, as they did with a survey by the Travel Leaders Group earlier this year.
    Let me say at the outset that I don’t doubt the quality of Gallup’s work. Like most modern polling organizations, they have become adept at random sampling techniques and have learned to weight responses to remove sampling abnormalities. In fact, the Gallup poll makes a mockery of the earlier Travel Leaders survey, conducted primarily through Facebook and Twitter, which showed overwhelming support for the TSA. According to Gallup, a small majority support TSA, not the two-thirds that Travel Leaders reported. (Is it really any surprise that Travel Leaders Group, one of North America’s largest travel companies, wants Americans to think that travel is safe and that the friendly folks at TSA are making it so?)
    So what gives? For starters, look at what Gallup asked:
    • Thinking now about the TSA, the government agency that handles security screening at U.S. airports, do you think the TSA is doing an excellent, good, only fair, or poor job?
    • How effective do you think the TSA’s screening procedures are at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplanes – extremely effective, very effective, somewhat effective, not too effective, or not effective at all?
    That’s it, just two questions, plus demographic background information: age, sex, ethnicity, whether or not there is a child under 18 living at home, and how often the respondent has flown. No one was asked whether the agency is too bloated, whether it wastes money, or whether TSA has too many criminals in its midst. Gallup didn’t ask if Americans thought the TSA’s methods were an invasion of privacy or if there were other less-invasive ways to produce the same results.
    If I’m being honest, I’d have answer that the TSA is at least “somewhat” effective. With 20 delicious layers of security funded by $8 billion in taxes each year, it would take a monumental effort to be anything less than at least “somewhat” effective. A sternly worded sign at every gate would be at least “somewhat” effective. While I think the TSA is not nearly effective enough (especially considering its size and budget), my primary gripe is the agency’s unnecessarily invasive screening. The Gallup survey is certainly not a vindication of those methods.
    Moreover, while the Gallup headline announces that 54% of Americans think the TSA is doing a good or excellent job, 42% think their work is “only fair” or downright poor. The number of screeners at American airports has ballooned from 28,000 in 2001 to over 60,000 today, according to the TSA’s own report. The mere presence of so many blue-shirted government employees could improve security, however slightly, so it’s not surprising that 86% of Americans think that the TSA is at least “somewhat effective.”
    Yes, 54% rate the agency positively, but when (as we’re constantly told) terrorists only have to get it right one time, it’s disconcerting that 4 in 10 people think the TSA is operating below par. (Imagine if you doubled your child’s study time or the number of tutors, but that 42% of his teachers still gave him grades below passing. Would you keep those same tutors for another year or try something else?)
    Gallup says that frequent fliers are even more supportive of the TSA than other Americans, but there’s a catch here, too. According to the pollsters:
    Younger Americans have significantly more positive opinions of the TSA than those who are older. These differences may partly reflect substantial differences in flying frequency, with 60% of 18- to 29-year-olds reporting having flown within the last year, compared with 33% of those 65 years and older.​
    The fact is, 18- to 29-year-olds, accustomed as they are to posting every event in their lives on social media, are far less concerned about privacy (though I would argue that they should be, and eventually will be as they age). We’ve read plenty about the Death of Privacy over the last decade, and the youngest among us have spent the greatest proportions of their lives in an age where everything they say or do is open to public scrutiny. If by “frequent flier” Gallup also means those who came of age in the post-privacy era, and if privacy is really the biggest slam against TSA, it’s no wonder that frequent fliers are OK with today’s airport screening.
    Anyone who pays attention to political polling, by Gallup and others, knows that there is a difference between “all Americans” and “registered voters” and the even more precise “likely voters.” Gallup commented on this distinction in a 2008 article that noted that Democrat John Kerry had a two-point lead among registered voters going into the 2004 presidential election. Among likely voters, George W. Bush was ahead by the same margin. Bush won the election by two points, exactly as predicted by the likely-voter sample.
    This distinction raises a natural question: whom did Gallup survey when it asked about TSA? As I’ve said, their definition of “frequent fliers” is somewhat flawed; but even so, that’s not who they targeted. They didn’t even ask plain old “travelers.” Just adults, aged 18 or more, in the United States.
    In fact, almost half (48%) of the respondents in Gallup’s survey have not been on a plane in the last year. Call me a snob, but I prefer to get my travel advice from people who travel. A lot.
    So let’s recast the Gallup press release: “In a survey of fliers and non-fliers, those who care the least about privacy issues voiced the greatest support for the TSA, and a large majority of all respondents think the agency must be doing at least something to improve security.”
    Doesn’t seem quite as punchy, does it?
    Which brings me back to ham sandwiches. Prosecutors are symbols of authority; they represent the collective power of our society. A grand jury is naturally predisposed to want to believe them. To do otherwise is to say that we don’t trust the machinery of our own government.
    So, too, we desperately want to believe that our airports are secure. Who among us really wants to think that a decade after 9/11 we’re still vulnerable? And so, when our politicians (who, with some notable exceptions, are at worst worthless on the TSA and at best mute) and the giant PR machine of the agency itself assure us that the TSA is doing its job, 54% of Americans cross their fingers and say, “I’d have to agree.”
    Among judges, Sol Wachtler had the courage and audacity to say, in so many words, “the system doesn’t work and in your heart you know it.” Those who know the truth about the TSA need to do the same.
    (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Kirti Poddar)
     
  2. Frank

    Frank Original Member

    Why should we pay for their upkeep? Weld collars on their necks, send them to Somalia, sell them for slaves.
     
  3. Fisher1949

    Fisher1949 Original Member Coach

  4. Fisher1949

    Fisher1949 Original Member Coach

  5. Monica47

    Monica47 Original Member

    Elliott: Are you one of the TSA’s unwitting accomplices?

    I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall at the Gallup Organization last week after it released a poll that suggested more than half of all Americans believe the TSA is doing a “good” or “excellent” job.

    The survey, which Gallup claims is self-funded and carries no ideological agenda, is sure to be used by the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems to defend its current practices.
    But the fly on the wall would have probably seen another side of the story: The hand-wringing and consternation among Gallup’s pollsters, who surely must darken the door of an airport every now and then. They must have known the results would be used to promote more of the nonsense we’ve seen since 2001.
    They must have felt like unwitting accomplices.
    Even though Gallup’s survey, and others like it, have been criticized, they haven’t been discredited. And because they haven’t been fully debunked, you can be sure the stats will emerge in a post on the TSA’s blog or in a letter to the editor from an agency apologist or in a Congressional report, in which the agency requests additional funds to “secure” America’s borders.
    The TSA relies on the work of unwitting accomplices like pollsters who ask irresponsible questions and tourists who offer uninformed answers to a survey. Without them, convincing the flying public that these allegedly unconstitutional airport searches are for their own good, would be considerably more difficult. And perhaps even, impossible.
    But others are helping the TSA, too. Just last week, the White House pulled a petition that asked the president to require TSA to “follow the law.” If the petition had received 25,000 signatures, the administration would have been obligated to publicly respond. The petition was 9,000 signatures short when it was deleted without explanation.
    It’s easy to understand why the Obama administration wouldn’t want to make a public statement about the legal status of the TSA. The agency has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the rule of law, the courts and the constitution, say its critics. During an election year, there’s no up-side to saying anything.
    Help also comes from the mainstream press, which often doesn’t see what the big deal is with an agency that scans, prods, pats-down and interrogates the people it’s supposed to protect. When TSA agents show up at NFL games and subway stations, reporters and editors don’t understand what the fuss is about. They may even believe that questioning the TSA is unpatriotic.
    Mostly, though, it isn’t what they write and broadcast, but what they choosenot to cover, that’s problematic. When an agency critic claims to have foiled the TSA’s controversial full-body scanners, it only takes a warning to get the press to back off.
    Has anyone ever bothered to count the number of full-time journalists covering the TSA? I’ll wait here while you do the math.
    We could spend all day pointing fingers, but as my grandmother used to say, when you point one finger there are at least three pointing back to you. See, Gallup’s disastrous poll didn’t happen in a vacuum; there were 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, who helped the cause.
    Those of us who write about this deeply troubled agency found ourselves asking: Who are these people?
    Now that I think about it, that’s not hard to answer. They are our neighbors, friends and relatives who get their information from the daily newspaper, the evening news, the mainstream news website. They are soothed by the words of a commander-in-chief who looks the other way while an entire federal agency flouts the law.
    And obviously — and perhaps most importantly — they haven’t suffered at the hands of a TSA agent. Their rights and their dignity haven’t been violated. They haven’t been bullied, harassed, lied to, and haven’t had their personal belongings pilfered.
    At least not yet.
    Poll at end of article.
     
  6. TSA News Blog

    TSA News Blog News Feed

    1-tsa-agent.jpg

    I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall at the Gallup Organization last week after it released a poll that suggested more than half of all Americans believe the TSA is doing a “good” or “excellent” job.

    The survey, which Gallup claims is self-funded and carries no ideological agenda, is sure to be used by the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems to defend its current practices.
    But the fly on the wall would have probably seen another side of the story: The hand-wringing and consternation among Gallup’s pollsters, who surely must darken the door of an airport every now and then. They must have known the results would be used to promote more of the nonsense we’ve seen since 2001.
    They must have felt like unwitting accomplices.
    Even though Gallup’s survey, and others like it, have been criticized, they haven’t been discredited. And because they haven’t been fully debunked, you can be sure the stats will emerge in a post on the TSA’s blog or in a letter to the editor from an agency apologist or in a Congressional report, in which the agency requests additional funds to “secure” America’s borders.
    The TSA relies on the work of unwitting accomplices like pollsters who ask irresponsible questions and tourists who offer uninformed answers to a survey. Without them, convincing the flying public that these allegedly unconstitutional airport searches are for their own good, would be considerably more difficult. And perhaps even, impossible.
    But others are helping the TSA, too. Just last week, the White House pulled a petition that asked the president to require TSA to “follow the law.” If the petition had received 25,000 signatures, the administration would have been obligated to publicly respond. The petition was 9,000 signatures short when it was deleted without explanation.
    It’s easy to understand why the Obama administration wouldn’t want to make a public statement about the legal status of the TSA. The agency has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the rule of law, the courts and the constitution, say its critics. During an election year, there’s no up-side to saying anything.
    Help also comes from the mainstream press, which often doesn’t see what the big deal is with an agency that scans, prods, pats-down and interrogates the people it’s supposed to protect. When TSA agents show up at NFL games and subway stations, reporters and editors don’t understand what the fuss is about. They may even believe that questioning the TSA is unpatriotic.
    Mostly, though, it isn’t what they write and broadcast, but what they choose not to cover, that’s problematic. When an agency critic claims to have foiled the TSA’s controversial full-body scanners, it only takes a warning to get the press to back off.
    Has anyone ever bothered to count the number of full-time journalists covering the TSA? I’ll wait here while you do the math.
    We could spend all day pointing fingers, but as my grandmother used to say, when you point one finger there are at least three pointing back to you. See, Gallup’s disastrous poll didn’t happen in a vacuum; there were 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, who helped the cause.
    Those of us who write about this deeply troubled agency found ourselves asking: Who are these people?
    Now that I think about it, that’s not hard to answer. They are our neighbors, friends and relatives who get their information from the daily newspaper, the evening news, the mainstream news website. They are soothed by the words of a commander-in-chief who looks the other way while an entire federal agency flouts the law.
    And obviously — and perhaps most importantly — they haven’t suffered at the hands of a TSA agent. Their rights and their dignity haven’t been violated. They haven’t been bullied, harassed, lied to, and haven’t had their personal belongings pilfered.
    At least not yet.
     
    KrazyKat likes this.
  7. Lisa Simeone

    Lisa Simeone Original Member

    I see that Saul has already gone over and added his comments; some of you might want to do likewise. At Bruce Schneier's blog:

    August 22, 2012
    Poll: Americans Like the TSA
    etc. etc.
    60 Comments so far.
     
  8. nachtnebel

    nachtnebel Original Member

    hmm. what to believe. a stinkin' lyin' poll or a couple of facts:
    1. Air traffic down YOY greatly exceeding the official rate of economic decline.
    2. Congressmen jumping down TSA's throat (yes, not to the extent of totally defunding TSA, yet their budget requests were cut) increasingly lately
    3. TSA becoming a common butt of jokes.
    4. General hostility to invasive TSA procedures is increasing, based on media reports.

    Also, it doesn't take a majority to force changes.
     
  9. Sunny Goth

    Sunny Goth Original Member Coach

    Lisa, wasn't there something up on the TSA News blog that helped to explain the numbers. I could have sworn I saw a post like that, but I went looking for it and couldn't find it.
     
  10. Lisa Simeone

    Lisa Simeone Original Member

    Yes, two posts. And Saul did us a favor by posting both of them in the Comments at Schneier's blog:
    In other words:

    Gallup TSA poll biased?
    by BILL FISHER on AUGUST 9, 2012

    and

    More thoughts on the TSA Gallup poll
    by PHILIP WEBER on AUGUST 10, 2012
     
  11. Sunny Goth

    Sunny Goth Original Member Coach

    I knew there was something up on the site! I must have been looking too hard. ;)
     

Share This Page