Who Screens the Screeners? American Opinions on the TSA

    NEW YORK, N.Y. – April 24 , 2014 – They have access to our documentation and belongings – albeit briefly. They both embody and carry out the safeguards put in place to protect travelers from the threats among us. They are the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and its most visible set of employees, the agents responsible for security screenings at the nation’s commercial airports. But what criteria do Americans think TSA screening agents should meet? And do they make air travel safer? Only half of U.S. adults believe so, with 50% indicating that TSA security screening procedures make air travel safer and 48% believing the screenings are an effective deterrent to hijacking.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,234 adults surveyed online between March 12 and 17, 2014.

    Those more likely to have been on the business end of a TSA screening within the past year are more likely to see it as both making air travel safer (46% among those who took no airline trips in the past year vs. 55% among those who took 1-5 and 57% among those who took over 5) and serving as an effective deterrent to hijacking (45% vs. 53% and 60%, respectively).

    Screening the screeners

    When it comes to who are acceptable candidates to become TSA agents, Americans appear flexible on qualifications but mindful of past misdeeds. Majorities feel it would be acceptable for someone who didn’t attend college (81%) or who has no previous law enforcement experience (63%) to become a TSA agent. On the other hand, majorities feel someone who was disciplined for misconduct in a previous job (76%), or who has been convicted of driving under the influence (72%) or of a non-violent crime (68%) would not be an acceptable candidate.

    • Frequent flyers are more comfortable with someone who has been convicted of a non-violent crime in such a position (32% among those who took no airline trips in the past year vs. 29% among those who took 1-5 and 45% among those who took over 5).

    Checking out the pre-check

    When asked about their familiarity with the TSA’s new pre-check program, wherein travelers can go through a faster security screening (with shoes on and laptops tucked safely away in their bags, no less) if they pay an application fee and meet a series of applicant criteria, six in ten Americans (59%) indicate having at least heard of it, while over a third (36%) indicate being at least somewhat familiar with the program (including the 2% who say they’re already either participants or applicants).

    • As one might expect, those who fly more are both more familiar with the program and more likely to be in the system already. Frequent flyers are more likely to indicate both that they’re very familiar with the program (4% among those who took no airline trips in the past year vs. 15% among those who took 1-5 vs. 29% among those who took over 5) and that they’re already either a participant or an applicant (1% and 2% vs. 13%, respectively)

    Strong majorities of Americans believe requirements for pre-check applicants should include:

    • Passing a criminal background check (76%)
    • Submitting to a fingerprint scan (73%)
    • Holding U.S. citizenship (70%)
    • An analysis of past travel habits (56%)
    • Passing a drug test (37%)
    • A check of family and social connections (35%)

    When asked what expedited airport screening might be worth to them (in the form of a one-time application fee), those who have traveled by airline in the past year indicate a willingness to pay roughly $50, on average. Among those who have taken over five trips in the past year that figure goes up to about $77. However, only two in ten air travelers (19%) and three in ten more frequent flyers (29%) would pay $85 or more; as it happens $85 is what the TSA charges currently.

    But regardless of what they know of it or would pay for it – what do Americans think of it? It turns out that U.S. adults have mixed feelings about this system, with things they like about it but some concerns as well.

    On the one hand, a strong majority of Americans believe that separating out pre-screened passengers into a different line will make the screening process quicker for everyone (79%), while only three in ten believe the qualifications for the program infringe on applicants’ privacy (29%).

    But on the other hand, two-thirds are concerned that lessening security procedures for some passengers through the TSA’s pre-check program will result in missing potential threats (68%) and over half don’t think it’s fair to treat passengers differently from one another (56%).

    • It’s worth noting that these two concerns are less pronounced among air travelers – particularly frequent ones:
      • I am concerned that lessening security procedures for some passengers through the TSA’s pre-check program will result in missing potential threats (71% among those who took no airline trips in the past year vs. 65% among those who took 1-5 and 54% among those taking over 5).
      • I don’t think it’s fair to treat passengers differently from one another (60% vs. 50% and 40%, respectively).

    Additionally, nearly nine in ten adults (89%) said they would not expect to be allowed onto the plane if they showed up for a flight without their ID, when in fact the TSA can accommodate those showing up sans identification – though they do advise building in extra time for such circumstances and highly recommend traveling with ID for expedited check-in.

    To view the full findings, or to see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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    TABLE 1

    AIRPLANE TRIPS IN PAST YEAR

    Approximately how many trips, if any, have you taken as a passenger on a commercial airplane in the last 12 months? Please consider connecting flights to be part of a single trip, but please count outgoing and returning flights separately.

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    %

    None

    61

    Any (NET)

    39

    1-2

    24

    3-4

    8

    5-9

    4

    10 or more

    4

    Mean

    1.6

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100 percent due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 2

    TSA SCREENING IMPACT ON AIR TRAVEL SAFETY

    by Airline Trips in Past Year

    Now we would like to ask you some questions about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), whose agents are responsible for the security of the traveling public in the United States. TSA agents’ most visible role is in security screening procedures at commercial airports. How does security screening performed by TSA agents make you feel about air travel? I feel it makes air travelÉ

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Airline Trips in Past Year

    None

    1-5 trips

    >5 trips

    %

    %

    %

    %

    A lot/Somewhat more safe (NET)

    50

    46

    55

    57

    A lot more safe

    11

    10

    14

    9

    Somewhat more safe

    39

    36

    41

    48

    Neither more nor less safe

    43

    48

    36

    40

    A lot/Somewhat less safe (NET)

    7

    6

    9

    3

    Somewhat less safe

    4

    3

    6

    2

    A lot less safe

    3

    4

    3

    2

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


    TABLE 3

    TSA SCREENING EFFECTIVENESS IN DETERRING HIJACKING

    by Airline Trips in Past Year

    Which of the following best describes how effective or ineffective you think having TSA agents performing security screenings for commercial flights is as a deterrent to hijacking? Having TSA agents performing security screenings is É

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Airline Trips in Past Year

    None

    1-5 trips

    >5 trips

    %

    %

    %

    %

    An ineffective deterrent to hijacking

    15

    15

    16

    11

    An effective deterrent to hijacking

    48

    45

    53

    60

    Neither an effective nor ineffective deterrent to hijacking

    36

    40

    31

    29

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

     

    TABLE 4a

    ACCEPTABLE/UNACCEPTABLE FOR SPECIFIC PEOPLE TO BECOME TSA AGENTS

    Summary Table

    How acceptable, if at all, do you think it would be for the following people to become TSA agents?

    Base: U.S. adults

    ACCEPTABLE (NET)

    Completely acceptable

    Somewhat acceptable

    UNACCEPTABLE (NET)

    Somewhat

    unacceptable

    Completely unacceptable

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Someone who did not attend college

    81

    43

    38

    19

    12

    6

    Someone who has no previous law enforcement experience

    63

    24

    39

    37

    22

    14

    Someone who has been convicted on a non-violent crime (e.g., intentionally writing a bad check)

    32

    8

    24

    68

    32

    36

    Someone who has been convicted of driving under the influence (i.e., DUI)

    28

    6

    22

    72

    34

    38

    Someone who was disciplined for misconduct in a previous job

    24

    6

    18

    76

    39

    37

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


    TABLE 4b

    ACCEPTABLE FOR SPECIFIC PEOPLE TO BECOME TSA AGENTS

    Acceptable Summary by Airline Trips in Past Year, Generation & Gender

    How acceptable, if at all, do you think it would be for the following people to become TSA agents?

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Airline Trips in Past Year

    Generation

    Gender

    None

    1-5 trips

    >5 trips

    Millennials (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Someone who did not attend college

    81

    82

    81

    81

    72

    86

    85

    89

    82

    81

    Someone who has no previous law enforcement experience

    63

    61

    68

    67

    59

    60

    67

    68

    67

    60

    Someone who has been convicted on a non-violent crime (e.g., intentionally writing a bad check)

    32

    32

    29

    45

    35

    35

    30

    22

    36

    27

    Someone who has been convicted of driving under the influence (i.e., DUI)

    28

    26

    29

    37

    31

    34

    27

    14

    35

    21

    Someone who was disciplined for misconduct in a previous job

    24

    24

    23

    35

    26

    33

    22

    13

    29

    20

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

     

    TABLE 4c

    UNACCEPTABLE FOR SPECIFIC PEOPLE TO BECOME TSA AGENTS

    Unacceptable Summary by Airline Trips in Past Year, Generation & Gender

    How acceptable, if at all, do you think it would be for the following people to become TSA agents?

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Airline Trips in Past Year

    Generation

    Gender

    None

    1-5 trips

    >5 trips

    Millennials (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Someone who was disciplined for misconduct in a previous job

    76

    76

    77

    65

    74

    67

    78

    87

    71

    80

    Someone who has been convicted of driving under the influence (i.e., DUI)

    72

    74

    71

    63

    69

    66

    73

    86

    65

    79

    Someone who has been convicted on a non-violent crime (e.g., intentionally writing a bad check)

    68

    68

    71

    55

    65

    65

    70

    78

    64

    73

    Someone who has no previous law enforcement experience

    37

    39

    32

    33

    41

    40

    33

    32

    33

    40

    Someone who did not attend college

    19

    18

    19

    19

    28

    14

    15

    11

    18

    19

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


    TABLE 5

    TSA PRE-CHECK FAMILIARITY

    by Airline Trips in Past Year

    The TSA recently introduced a new pre-check program wherein travelers can go through a faster security screening (e.g., leave shoes on, leave laptop and bag of 3-oz liquids in carry-on) if they pay an application fee and meet a series of applicant criteria. Were you aware of this?

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Airline Trips in Past Year

    None

    1-5 trips

    >5 trips

    %

    %

    %

    %

    At least heard of it (NET)

    59

    50

    72

    88

    At least somewhat familiar (NET)

    36

    24

    51

    75

    I’m a participant or applicant

    2

    1

    2

    13

    I’m very familiar with the program

    9

    4

    15

    29

    I’m somewhat familiar with the program

    25

    20

    33

    32

    I’ve heard of it but didn’t know anything about it

    23

    25

    21

    13

    No, I’ve never heard of this program

    41

    50

    28

    12

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

     

    TABLE 6

    SHOULD BE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE PRECHECK PROGRAM

    by Airline Trips in Past Year, Generation & Gender

    Which of the following, if any, should be requirements to qualify for the precheck program? Please select all that apply.

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Airline Trips in Past Year

    Generation

    Gender

    None

    1-5 trips

    >5 trips

    Millennials (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Passing a criminal background check

    76

    75

    78

    72

    71

    73

    79

    82

    75

    76

    A fingerprint scan

    73

    73

    75

    71

    66

    73

    78

    79

    73

    74

    U.S. citizenship

    70

    69

    71

    71

    62

    70

    76

    73

    74

    66

    An analysis of past travel habits

    56

    54

    58

    53

    54

    58

    56

    52

    54

    57

    Passing a drug test

    37

    37

    38

    27

    40

    31

    34

    46

    35

    39

    A check of family and social connections

    35

    35

    37

    23

    35

    38

    35

    30

    35

    35

    Other

    9

    9

    8

    2

    11

    5

    9

    6

    8

    9

    None

    8

    9

    6

    3

    11

    8

    5

    7

    6

    9

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


    TABLE 7

    AMOUNT WOULD PAY FOR EXPEDITED SCREENING

    by Airline Trips in Past Year, Generation & Gender

    How much would you pay (in the form of a one-time application fee) in order to have expedited screening at the airport, including not having to take off your shoes and not having to remove items from your bag?

    Base: U.S. adults who have traveled on a commercial airline in the past year

    Total

    Airline Trips in Past Year

    1-5 trips

    >5 trips

    %

    %

    %

    Would not pay for this

    21

    23

    14

    Would pay (NET of all amounts)

    79

    77

    86

    Would pay $1-$9

    7

    8

    2

    Would pay $10-$19

    12

    12

    12

    Would pay $20-$49

    20

    19

    24

    Would pay $50-$84

    20

    20

    19

    Would pay $85 or more (NET)

    19

    17

    29

    Mean

    $49.60

    $44.00

    $76.70

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

     

    TABLE 8a

    Agree/Disagree with Air Travel Statements

    Summary Table

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. adults

    AGREE (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    DISAGREE (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    If I showed up for a flight without my ID, I would not expect to be allowed onto the plane.

    89

    66

    22

    11

    7

    5

    I think separating out pre-screened passengers into a different line will make the screening process quicker for everyone.

    79

    27

    53

    21

    14

    7

    I am concerned that lessening security procedures for some passengers through the TSA’s pre-check program will result in missing potential threats.

    68

    28

    40

    32

    22

    10

    I don’t think it’s fair to treat passengers differently from one another.

    56

    24

    31

    44

    26

    18

    The qualifications for the TSA’s pre-check program infringe on applicants’ privacy.

    29

    8

    21

    71

    33

    38

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


    TABLE 8b

    Agree with Air Travel Statements

    Agree Summary by Airline Trips in Past Year, Generation & Gender

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Airline Trips in Past Year

    Generation

    Gender

    None

    1-5 trips

    >5 trips

    Millennials (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    If I showed up for a flight without my ID, I would not expect to be allowed onto the plane.

    89

    89

    88

    86

    84

    89

    90

    96

    85

    92

    I think separating out pre-screened passengers into a different line will make the screening process quicker for everyone.

    79

    78

    81

    85

    76

    79

    80

    86

    81

    77

    I am concerned that lessening security procedures for some passengers through the TSA’s pre-check program will result in missing potential threats.

    68

    71

    65

    54

    73

    67

    66

    64

    59

    77

    I don’t think it’s fair to treat passengers differently from one another.

    56

    60

    50

    40

    62

    58

    50

    53

    51

    60

    The qualifications for the TSA’s pre-check program infringe on applicants’ privacy.

    29

    30

    27

    29

    39

    30

    23

    19

    29

    29

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

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,234 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. 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, The Harris Poll 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 Poll 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 our 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 The Harris Poll.

    Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    The Harris Poll¨ #40, April 24, 2014

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

    About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

    On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.