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5/13 NEWSWEEK POLL: 57% Say Bush's NSA has 'gone too far'


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Newsweek Poll: Americans Wary of NSA Spying


Newsweek Web Exclusive

By David Jefferson

Updated: 11:59 a.m. ET May 13, 2006

May 13, 2006 - Has the Bush administration gone too far in expanding the powers of the President to fight terrorism? Yes, say a majority of Americans, following this week?s revelation that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone records of U.S. citizens since the September 11 terrorist attacks. According to the latest NEWSWEEK poll, 53 percent of Americans think the NSA?s surveillance program ?goes too far in invading people?s privacy,? while 41 percent see it as a necessary tool to combat terrorism.


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President Bush tried to reassure the public this week that its privacy is ?fiercely protected,? and that ?we?re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans.? Nonetheless, Americans think the White House has overstepped its bounds: 57 percent said that in light of the NSA data-mining news and other executive actions, the Bush-Cheney Administration has ?gone too far in expanding presidential power.? That compares to 38 percent who think the Administration?s actions are appropriate.


There?s more bad news for the White House in the NEWSWEEK poll: President Bush?s approval rating has dropped to the lowest in his presidency. At 35 percent, his rating is one point below the 36 percent he received in Newsweek?s polls in March and November, 2005.


Iraq continues to be the biggest drain on the president?s popularity: 86 percent of Americans say the Iraq situation, coupled with new information about the decision to go to war, have negatively influenced their view of the president. Asked about Bush?s performance on a variety of issues, from the economy to taxes, respondents gave the president some of the worst marks of his tenure, and in no instance did approval reach more than 50 percent.


Anger over the recent spike in prices at the pump has cost the president dearly: only 17 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling gas prices. Nor do they like the way he is dealing with the federal budget deficit (only 19 percent approve) or immigration policy (25 percent). Even as Congress was approving the latest Bush tax cuts this week, public opinion of his handling of taxes dropped to a record low for him of 39 percent. Half of Americans (50 percent) now think George W. Bush will go down in history as a ?below-average? president.


News of the NSA?s secret phone-records program comes at an especially awkward time for the president. His nominee for the top job at the CIA?former NSA head Gen. Michael Hayden?heads into confirmation hearings on the Hill next week. With Democrats expressing outrage over the surveillance program, and several Republicans voicing concern as well, the hearings could turn into something of a Congressional probe into the NSA?s collection of phone data.


According to the Newsweek poll, 73 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans think the NSA?s program is overly intrusive. Details of the surveillance efforts were first reported on Wednesday by USA Today. The newspaper said the NSA has collected tens of millions of customer phone records from AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Bell-South Corp., in an effort to assemble a database of every call made within the United States. While the records include detailed information about when and where phone calls were made, the government isn?t listening in to the actual conversations, a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the program told the newspaper. The only big telecommunications company that has refused to participate is Denver-based Qwest, which says it was concerned about the legal implications of turning over customer information to the government without warrants.


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The fracas over surveillance is yet another headache the Republicans didn?t need heading into the November midterm elections. Seventy-one percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country, and more than half?52 percent?say they would like the Democrats to win enough seats to take over Congress this November (only 35 percent want the Republicans to keep control). Looking ahead to the presidential race in 2008, more Americans said they would like to see a Democrat elected than a Republican?50 percent versus 31 percent. That, despite the fact that a majority of those polled don?t believe a Democrat would do any better than Bush is doing on a variety of issues. Democrats also have a significant lead in being perceived as better able to bring about the changes the country needs: 53 percent to 30 percent.


Bush?s new approval low of 35 percent in the NEWSWEEK poll is below the nadir of Bill Clinton?s presidency in May 1993, when the former president hit 36 percent. The 41st president, George H.W. Bush, hit his lowest ratings late in 1992 before he was defeated by Clinton: A Gallup poll in July 1992 recorded a 32 percent approval rate for the first President Bush. But other presidents have fared worse. Jimmy Carter scored 28-29 percent in June and July 1979, according to Gallup. President Richard Nixon?s Gallup number dropped to 24 percent in August 1974.


According to Meet The Press, on the flip side of 50% now saying that Bush will go down as having a below average presidency, less than 20% say it will be an above average one.

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