People weren’t paying all that much attention to President Barack Obama’s speech about surveillance — a 43-minute televised explanation of the National Security Agency’s surveillance on Friday and how he intends to balance the imperative for intelligence in a dangerous world with the inviolable promise of personal privacy for Americans.
Half of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they have heard nothing about Obama’s proposed changes at the NSA.
But people have been playing plenty of attention to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political traffic problem — staring with the nearly two-hour news conference he gave to apologize for an aide’s excesses and maintain that he had known nothing of the closing of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge that paralyzed Fort Lee, N.J., last fall.
The share of Americans holding an unfavorable opinion of Christie has doubled in one year, Pew found. Most who have heard about the lane closures doubt that Christie didn’t know about his aide’s involvement in the act.
The poll suggests that people should have been listening to the president.
The national survey of 1,504 adults by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted Jan. 15-19 (including three nights after the president’s Jan. 17 address from the Justice Department) found that overall approval of the NSA’s surveillance program has declined since last summer, when news first broke of former national security contractor Edward Snowden’s purloined security secrets. Today, Pew found, 40 percent approve of the government’s collection of telephone and internet data, while 53 percent disapprove. In July, more Americans approved (50 percent) than disapproved (44 percent).
In addition, nearly half (48 percent) say there are inadequate limits on what data the government can collect, while 41 percent say there are adequate limits on the government’s data collection. See the full Pew report on NSA surveillance and Obama’s speech.
At the same time, Christie’s public image is “ starkly different than it was a year ago,” Pew reports. Last January, following Christie’s high-profile role in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, favorable opinions of the Republican governor outnumbered unfavorable ones by more than two-to-one. Today, in the wake of the scandal involving highway lane closures nearly as many offer an unfavorable assessment of Christie as a favorable one.
While 38 percent hold a favorable view of Christie, 34 percent hold an unfavorable view — and that unfavorable rating is twice what it was last January, 17 percent.
Most Americans say they have heard either a lot or little about Christie’s aides ordering the closure of traffic lanes, and among those who have heard about the incident, 58 percent say they do not believe Christie saying he had no knowledge of his aides’ involvement until it became public — 32 percent believe Christie’s assertion that he was unaware of his aides’ role.