We begin our next set of polling results with a couple questions related to the recent revelation that the New York City Police Department carried out a program of secret surveillance of Muslim and other groups for a number of years. There is a great deal of debate over who knew what and when they knew it, and a lot of condemnation of the effort, but it turns out that like New Yorkers, New Jerseyans generally support the effort, and are more likely to say that monitoring these groups is “necessary to protect our country” than they are to view the NYPD actions as a “violation of civil liberties.”
We asked the question this way because we wanted to put in front of respondents the basic question of a tradeoff between Constitutional protection of civil liberties and the issue of national security. A great deal of research (as well as polling) shows that people value a sense of security, and are often willing to give up a lot (at least in theory) to feel safe, despite Benjamin Franklin’s warning that “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” A sense of security is important to us – it’s a key psychological need – and when the groups targeted by techniques such as used by the NYPD are see by many as “outgroups” it should not be overly surprising to find the results that we did.
In fact, as it turns out, residents of Hudson and Essex Counties are more likely to express concern than those in others part of the state, suggesting those who do not imagine themselves as targets are more likely to support something they think will make them safe.
Full text of the release follows. Click here for PDF with the release plus all questions and tables used here.
RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: NYPD SURVEILLANCE OK WITH NEW JERSEYANS
Most call undercover monitoring effective
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Most New Jersey residents support the secret monitoring of Muslim groups by the New York City Police Department, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Just under half (47 percent) say the monitoring was necessary to protect the country, while 32 percent condemn it as a violation of civil liberties. Another 12 percent volunteer that while the NYPD violated civil liberties, monitoring these groups was necessary to protect the country.
Three-quarters of New Jerseyans say secret monitoring of groups is at least “somewhat effective” in protecting the country from terrorist threats, although only 24 percent call it “very effective.” Just 18 percent say monitoring has little effect. Awareness of the story is widespread: 74 percent of Garden Staters heard at least a little about it and only 26 percent have heard nothing.
“Another recent poll told us that New Yorkers strongly supported the NYPD, which was to be expected” said poll Director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers. “But New Jerseyans also seem to have few problems with the NYPD’s actions, which is more surprising since we’re talking about an out-of-state police force operating in secret here.”
Results are from a poll of 601 adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from March 21-27. The sample has a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points.
Essex, Hudson residents far less in favor of surveillance
Residents in Essex and Hudson counties – those most directly affected by the police surveillance – are far less supportive than elsewhere. While across the state, 47 percent say the NYPD program was necessary, in urban northeast New Jersey only 37 percent agree. More (44 percent) say the monitoring was a violation of civil liberties.
An additional 15 percent of Essex and Hudson residents offer that surveillance program, while violating civil liberties, was necessary, similar to the statewide number.
Residents of the Jersey Shore counties are least likely to find that the NYPD violated civil liberties: 21 percent say it did, while 57 percent call the effort to watch Muslim groups necessary to protect the country. Fourteen percent say the surveillance violated civil liberties but was needed.
Despite differing concerns about civil liberties, Essex and Hudson residents, similar to others, believe monitoring groups can be effective to counter terrorist threats. Half of urban residents say monitoring is at least somewhat effective, in line with most other regions. Only Shore county residents differ, where more than 80 percent say such programs are at least somewhat effective.
“Not surprisingly, those closest to the surveillance operations are the most likely to be concerned for civil liberties violations,” said Redlawsk. “Moreover, these counties have larger Muslim populations, as well as other groups who may see themselves as potential targets for undercover operations. More homogenous areas of the state appear less concerned about violation of civil liberties if the result is protection from terrorist threats.
“At the same time, the tradeoff between wanting to feel safe and wanting civil liberties protected is evident,” he continued. “Those who see themselves as potential targets come down more heavily for civil liberties, even as they accept the likely effectiveness of surveillance programs.”
Support for NYPD increases with awareness
While the large majority of New Jerseyans have heard at least something about the NYPD monitoring of Muslim groups and agree with the tactic, those who have heard less are less likely to believe the monitoring was necessary.
More than half of the New Jerseyans who heard a lot about the story support the NYPD program while just over one-third of those who had not previously heard about it support monitoring Muslim groups. But rather than believing civil liberties were being violated, those who had not heard about the story were more likely to have no opinion (21 percent), compared to only 3 percent of those paying close attention.
“About one-third of New Jerseyan don’t like the idea of secret surveillance, seeing it as a civil liberties issue, no matter how much they know about this particular story,” said Redlawsk. “Greater awareness of the NYPD program does not increase concern for civil liberties, instead it makes people more ready to believe in the need for monitoring Muslim groups.”
Democrats split but Republicans overwhelmingly supportive
While Democrats and Republicans are equally aware of the Police Department’s actions, the partisans differ on both the need and effectiveness of the program. Republicans overwhelmingly say the NYPD monitoring was necessary to protect the country (70 percent). Fifteen percent directly flag it as a violation of civil liberties, and 4 percent say it is both necessary and a violation. Democrats disagree: 47 percent call the monitoring a violation of civil liberties and 32 percent say it was necessary. Another 12 percent call the program a civil liberties violation and necessary.
“The large majority of Republicans come down on the side of monitoring Muslim groups as a way to keep the country safe, essentially rejecting the claim about civil liberties,” said Redlawsk. “Democrats find themselves less certain about the tradeoff, but are more in favor of protecting civil liberties. Independents fall somewhere in between.”
Twenty percent of Democrats see such monitoring as potentially very effective, while the same percentage questions the effectiveness. Nearly forty percent of Republicans call monitoring very effective while fewer than 10 percent believe it is not effective.
“Research over the years has shown that Americans support civil liberties in the abstract, but are willing to violate such rights in specific cases,” said Redlawsk. “With the question of secretly monitoring Muslim groups, the tension between the two is evident. A sense of security is important to people, and if they believe programs like the NYPD surveillance effort will help keep them safe, they are often willing to overlook its potential conflict with the Bill of Rights.”