Hill Poll: Voters: Obama no better than Bush on security vs civil liberties

A majority of voters believe President Obama has been no better than his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, when it comes to balancing national security with the protection of civil liberties, according to a new poll for The Hill.

Thirty-seven percent of voters argue that Obama has been worse than Bush while 15 percent say he has been “about the same.”

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The results cannot be fully explained as party line responses. More than one in five self-identified Democrats, 21 percent, assert that the Obama administration has not improved upon Bush’s record. So do 23 percent of liberals.

The results are especially striking given the liberal hopes that attended Obama’s election, the opprobrium he heaped upon Bush’s national security policies during the 2008 campaign and his early promise to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.


The vexing issue of how to balance security with respect for civil liberties has taken center-stage since a document detailing the legal justification for drone strikes on overseas al Qaeda members was leaked to NBC News earlier this month. 

The Justice Department “white paper” surfaced ahead of last Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearing of President Obama’s choice for CIA director, his chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.

The leaked memo stipulates that the government can lawfully kill one of its own citizens overseas if it determines the person has ties to al Qaeda or one of its affiliates and poses an “imminent threat.” 

But critics have said the broad language used in the document allows for an elastic interpretation, raising questions over how much authority the administration should have over the lives of American citizens.

Americans are, however, inclined to support the government in its lethal attacks on citizens and non-citizens it deems to be terrorists, according to the Hill Poll.

The poll found that 53 percent of likely voters said it should be legal for the U.S. government to kill non-U.S. citizens who meet that description. Meanwhile, 44 percent said it should be legal for the U.S. government to kill American citizens who it believes are terrorists and present an imminent threat.

By contrast, 21 percent of respondents thought such an action should be illegal if the target is a non-U.S. citizen. A slightly higher percentage of voters, 31 percent, thought killing individuals whom the government believes are terrorists should be illegal when the target is an American citizen. 

A significant proportion of respondents — 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively — said they were not sure if such attacks should be legal, regardless of whether the target was an American or not.

When asked whether they oppose or back the administration’s drone program, however, a significantly higher percentage of voters voiced their support. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they support the use of unmanned drones to kill “people in foreign countries whom the US government says are terrorists and present an imminent threat,” while just 19 percent of voters said they oppose the policy.

The findings were based on a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted on Feb. 7 by Pulse Opinion Research.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.