Bi-partisan concern that government is tracking U.S. citizens
West Long Branch, NJ – A majority of the American public believe that the U.S. government engages in widespread monitoring of its own citizens and worry that the U.S. government could be invading their own privacy. The Monmouth University Poll also finds a large bipartisan majority who feel that national policy is being manipulated or directed by a “Deep State” of unelected government officials. Americans of color on the center and left and NRA members on the right are among those most worried about the reach of government prying into average citizens’ lives.
Just over half of the public is either very worried (23%) or somewhat worried (30%) about the U.S. government monitoring their activities and invading their privacy. There are no significant partisan differences – 57% of independents, 51% of Republicans, and 50% of Democrats are at least somewhat worried the federal government is monitoring their activities. Another 24% of the American public are not too worried and 22% are not at all worried.
Fully 8-in-10 believe that the U.S. government currently monitors or spies on the activities of American citizens, including a majority (53%) who say this activity is widespread and another 29% who say such monitoring happens but is not widespread. Just 14% say this monitoring does not happen at all. There are no substantial partisan differences in these results.
“This is a worrisome finding. The strength of our government relies on public faith in protecting our freedoms, which is not particularly robust. And it’s not a Democratic or Republican issue. These concerns span the political spectrum,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Few Americans (18%) say government monitoring or spying on U.S. citizens is usually justified, with most (53%) saying it is only sometimes justified. Another 28% say this activity is rarely or never justified. Democrats (30%) and independents (31%) are somewhat more likely than Republicans (21%) to say government monitoring of U.S. citizens is rarely or never justified.
Turning to the Washington political infrastructure as a whole, 6-in-10 Americans (60%) feel that unelected or appointed government officials have too much influence in determining federal policy. Just 26% say the right balance of power exists between elected and unelected officials in determining policy. Democrats (59%), Republicans (59%) and independents (62%) agree that appointed officials hold too much sway in the federal government.
“We usually expect opinions on the operation of government to shift depending on which party is in charge. But there’s an ominous feeling by Democrats and Republicans alike that a ‘Deep State’ of unelected operatives are pulling the levers of power,” said Murray.
Few Americans (13%) are very familiar with the term “Deep State;” another 24% are somewhat familiar, while 63% say they are not familiar with this term. However, when the term is described as a group of unelected government and military officials who secretly manipulate or direct national policy, nearly 3-in-4 (74%) say they believe this type of apparatus exists in Washington. This includes 27% who say it definitely exists and 47% who say it probably exists. Only 1-in-5 say it does not exist (16% probably not and 5% definitely not). Belief in the probable existence of a Deep State comes from more than 7-in-10 Americans in each partisan group, although Republicans (31%) and independents (33%) are somewhat more likely than Democrats (19%) to say that the Deep State definitely exists.
While there is general partisan agreement on concerns about government overreach, there are some notable differences in the level of concern by two very different demographic metrics: race and membership in the National Rifle Association.
Americans of black, Latino and Asian backgrounds (35%) are more likely than non-Hispanic whites (23%) to say that the Deep State definitely exists. Non-whites (60%) are also somewhat more likely than whites (50%) to worry about the government monitoring them and similarly more likely to believe there is already widespread government monitoring of U.S. citizens (60% and 49%, respectively). More non-whites (35%) than whites (23%) say that such monitoring is rarely or never justified.
The Monmouth University Poll also finds that NRA members (43%) are significantly more likely than other Americans (25%) to definitely believe in the existence of a Deep State operation in DC. In a Monmouth poll released earlier this month, NRA members voiced opposition to the establishment of a national gun registry database in part because of their fear it would be used to track other activities of gun owners. NRA members (63%) are somewhat more likely than other Americans (51%) to worry about the government monitoring them and similarly are more likely to believe there is already widespread government monitoring of U.S. citizens (61% and 51%, respectively). However, there are no significant differences between NRA members (30%) and others (26%) on whether such monitoring is rarely or never justified when it does occur. The opinion of gun owners who are not NRA members are more similar to non-gun owners than they are to NRA members on these questions.
“Anxiety about a possible ‘Deep State’ is prevalent in both parties, but each has key constituent groups who express even greater concerns about the potential for government overreach. This includes racial and ethnic groups who still experience the effects of historical prejudice as well as gun owners who fear their constitutional rights are being threatened,” said Murray. “Can those fears be allayed or will they intensify and spread? Or is this just the new normal? This is something we will have to keep tracking.”
More than 1-in-3 (36%) Americans say it is very important for them to get involved in politics and another 39% say it is somewhat important. Just 1-in-4 say it is either not too (13%) or not at all (12%) important. The number of Americans who say it is very important has increased by 11 points since the 2016 presidential campaign – three years ago, 25% felt it was very important for them to get involved. This increase has occurred across the partisan spectrum with over one-third of Democrats (41%), Republicans (35%), and independents (34%) alike now saying it is very important for them to be politically engaged.
More than one-third (37%) say they have become more politically active since Donald Trump took office while only 6% say they are now less active. Another 56% say their political activity has not changed much since last year. Democrats (45%) are more likely than Republicans (34%) and independents (33%) to say their level of political activity has increased.
Just over 1-in-5 Americans (22%) feel angry with Washington while the vast majority (59%) feel dissatisfied. Very few express a positive feeling toward DC – just 12% are satisfied and only 4% are happy. These results have remained fairly stable since Monmouth started asking this question in the fall of 2016. There are few substantial partisan differences in the current results, although Democrats who feel angry has increased since 2016 (from 14% to 28%) and Republicans who feel angry has decreased (from 25% to 16%). Independents have not changed (from 22% to 21%). Among those who are very worried about the U.S. government monitoring their activities, 32% say they are angry with Washington. Among those who are not worried or only somewhat worried, 19% say they are angry with Washington.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from March 2 to 5, 2018 with 803 adults in the United States. The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.
QUESTIONS AND RESULTS
(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)
[Q1-28 previously released.]
|Not too important||13%||17%|
|Not at all important||12%||17%|
|(VOL) Don’t know||0%||1%|
|Not changed much||56%|
|(VOL) Don’t know||0%|
|(VOL) Don’t know||3%||6%||2%||2%|
* Registered voters
|Unelected or appointed officials have
too much influence
|Right balance of influence between
elected and unelected officials
|(VOL) Don’t know||14%|
|Probably does not exist||16%|
|Definitely does not exist||5%|
|(VOL) Don’t know||5%|
|Not too worried||24%|
|Not at all worried||22%|
|(VOL) Don’t know||1%|
|Yes, not widespread||29%|
|No, does not monitor or spy||14%|
|(VOL) Don’t know||4%|
|(VOL) Never justified||2%|
|(VOL) Don’t know||2%|
[Q38-45 held for future release.]
[Q46-48 previously released.]
The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from March 2 to 5, 2018 with a national random sample of 803 adults age 18 and older, in English. This includes 400 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 403 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone. Telephone numbers were selected through random digit dialing and landline respondents were selected with a modified Troldahl-Carter youngest adult household screen. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. Final sample is weighted for region, age, education, gender and race based on US Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and SSI (RDD sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.