Most People Think Releases by WikiLeaks Should be Illegal

    New York, N.Y. – January 4, 2011 – A new BBC World News America/Harris Poll finds that Americans are divided, with no consensus, as to how much freedom the media should have to publish confidential government documents. However, a sizable 69% to 18% of all adults agree that publishing these documents could pose a security threat to the United States and therefore should be illegal. At the same time a 48% to 40% plurality believes that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment…gives organizations and individuals the right to post any information given to them. The public is clearly split on some of the key issues raised by the publication of government cables by WikiLeaks, and some people give somewhat contradictory responses depending on how the issue is presented.

    These are some of the findings of a new BBC World News America/Harris Poll of 2,019 U.S. adults surveyed online between December 17 and 21, 2010.

    Some of the other main findings of this poll are:

    • A 47% to 39% plurality of all adults disagree that WikiLeaks is helping to provide transparency in government which is important and good;
    • A 48% to 39% plurality disagrees that publishing these documents could be embarrassing or hurtful to any given administration, but it’s not dangerous;
    • When it comes to the role of the media, the public is split between the 39% of all adults who agree and the 43% who disagree that all investigative journalism should be regulated by government; and
    • On one issue there is a very clear answer: by more than 4-to-1, a 62% majority believes that the government should keep some secrets for national security, international diplomacy and other reasons as opposed to only 13% who believe that the government should keep no secrets at all….

    Perhaps the best indication of how the public is divided by some of the issues raised by the WikiLeaks debate is the three way split regarding who should decide what can and cannot be publicly released. Just over one third, 35%, think the government should regulate what is released. One third, 32%, thinks that each media outlet should decide what to publish and one third, 33%, say they are not sure.

    The poll also finds that Democrats and Independents are somewhat more likely than Republicans to support the right to release and publish government documents, and that younger people are much more likely than older people to do so.

    So What?

    There is no consensus as to what should be done in response to the WikiLeaks releases and their publication in the media or to regulate future leaks of confidential government documents. It is probable that the public’s reaction to these and future leaks, and to the preferred roles of the government and media will depend on the context and the perceived consequences of the published documents. If, for example, people believe that the leaks seriously endanger national security, they are likely to oppose the leaking. If, on the other hand, the leaks merely embarrass the government or other countries, the public will be much more likely to approve of the leaks.

     

    TABLE 1A

    OPINIONS ABOUT WIKILEAKS

    Recently the website known as WikiLeaks posted thousands of confidential and classified U.S. government documents on the Internet, provided to them by anonymous sources. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the statements below?

    Base: All U.S. adults

    Agree (NET)

    Agree strongly

    Agree somewhat

    Disagree (NET)

    Disagree somewhat

    Disagree strongly

    Not at all sure

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Publishing these documents could pose a security threat to the United States and therefore should be illegal.

    69

    47

    21

    18

    10

    8

    13

    The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which provides freedoms of press and free speech, gives organizations and individuals the right to post any information given to them.

    48

    19

    28

    40

    18

    22

    13

    WikiLeaks is helping to provide transparency in government, which is important and good.

    39

    16

    23

    47

    18

    29

    14

    Publishing these documents could be embarrassing or hurtful to any given administration, but it’s not dangerous.

    39

    15

    24

    48

    22

    26

    13

     

    TABLE 1B

    OPINIONS ABOUT WIKILEAKS

    Recently the website known as WikiLeaks posted thousands of confidential and classified U.S. government documents on the Internet, provided to them by anonymous sources. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the statements below?

    Summary of those saying agree strongly or agree somewhat

    Base: All U.S. adults

    Total

    Age

    Gender

    Political Party

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55+

    Male

    Female

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Publishing these documents could pose a security threat to the United States and therefore should be illegal.

    69

    56

    74

    69

    76

    70

    67

    78

    69

    66

    The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which provides freedoms of press and free speech, gives organizations and individuals the right to post any information given to them.

    48

    57

    51

    48

    37

    53

    43

    39

    55

    46

    WikiLeaks is helping to provide transparency in government, which is important and good.

    39

    51

    43

    35

    28

    43

    35

    31

    42

    39

    Publishing these documents could be embarrassing or hurtful to any given administration, but it’s not dangerous.

    39

    45

    41

    35

    33

    42

    36

    32

    44

    34

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 2

    WIKILEAKS AND INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

    Some argue that WikiLeak’s actions are equivalent to espionage, and should be investigated and prosecuted by law. If this is the case, to what extent do you agree or disagree that all investigative journalism would have to be regulated by the government?

    Base: All U.S. adults

    Total

    Education

    Political Party

    HS or less

    Some College

    College Grad.

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Agree (NET)

    39

    42

    37

    36

    42

    46

    28

    Agree strongly

    16

    16

    16

    15

    17

    17

    15

    Agree somewhat

    23

    26

    22

    20

    25

    30

    12

    Disagree (NET)

    43

    32

    45

    57

    45

    33

    57

    Disagree somewhat

    17

    12

    18

    24

    20

    13

    23

    Disagree strongly

    26

    20

    27

    33

    25

    20

    34

    Not at all sure

    18

    26

    17

    7

    13

    21

    15

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3

    SECRETS IN GOVERNMENT

    Which of the following scenarios comes closest to your own opinion? I believe…

    Base: All U.S. adults

    Total

    Age

    Education

    Political Party

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55+

    HS or less

    Some College

    College Grad.

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The government should keep some secrets for national security, international diplomacy and other reasons, but I trust elected and appointed officials will do so appropriately.

    62

    47

    68

    60

    73

    53

    64

    74

    71

    61

    65

    The government should keep no secrets at all, including those for national security, international diplomacy and other reasons.

    13

    23

    14

    9

    5

    14

    13

    11

    9

    12

    14

    Not at all sure

    26

    30

    18

    31

    22

    34

    23

    15

    20

    27

    22

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 4

    REGULATING INFORMATION

    If you make the assumption that some information is dangerous to have publicly available, as some people believe, who do you think should regulate what is okay for public release and what is not?

    Base: All U.S. adults

    Total

    Age

    Gender

    Political Party

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55+

    Male

    Female

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The government is best suited to regulate this.

    35

    30

    37

    38

    37

    37

    34

    40

    38

    32

    Each media outlet and individual should be responsible to self-regulate.

    32

    34

    35

    29

    30

    39

    25

    32

    28

    36

    Not at all sure

    33

    36

    28

    33

    33

    24

    41

    28

    34

    32

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    Methodology

    This BBC World News America/Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between December 17 and 21, 2010 among 2,019 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Where appropriate, this data were also weighted to reflect the composition of the adult online population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

    The Harris Poll® #1, January 4, 2011

    By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll

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