In spite of unprecedented animus from President Trump, Americans overwhelmingly consider intelligence agencies effective, according to a poll directed by LBJ's Steve Slick and Josh Busby.
Despite a barrage of antagonism from the president — including rejecting the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) on Russia's interference in the 2016 elections, attacking U.S. intelligence agencies and their former leaders and accusing the IC of spying on his campaign — most Americans, including Republicans, continue to express confidence in the IC.
In fact, results of a survey taken during the summer of 2018 show a slight improvement from 2017 in public views of the IC's effectiveness. The poll is the second annual ISP/Texas National Security Network survey of Americans' views on our intelligence agencies, and is supervised by LBJ Professor and Intelligence Studies Project Director Steve Slick and Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar Dr. Josh Busby. This year's report was co-authored with Kingsley Burns, a recent graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Brumley Next Generation Fellow.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently posted Public Attitudes on U.S. Intelligence: Annual Poll Reflects Bipartisan Confidence Despite Presidential Antagonism — the report that analyzes the data collected in the poll.
- Public Attitudes on US Intelligence: Annual Poll Reflects Bipartisan Confidence Despite Presidential Antagonism: Topline report
- Public Attitudes on US Intelligence: Annual Poll Reflects Bipartisan Confidence Despite Presidential Antagonism: Full report
- The Chicago Council on Global Affairs: Public Attitudes on U.S. Intelligence
- ISP: Results of ISP's Second Annual Public Opinion Poll on US Intelligence
- Intelligence Studies Project (ISP)
While IC leaders will likely be reassured by the poll's outcome, the report's authors warn that those leaders should pay close attention to wide variations that emerge among generational groups, particularly among younger Americans whose attitudes may be malleable but are shaped by formative experiences. Americans in the youngest generational cohort analyzed here (millennials) are less likely to see the IC as playing a vital role in warning against foreign threats and less likely to say the IC is effective in preventing terrorist attacks.
Key Takeaways from the 2018 Survey:
- Once again, a strong majority of Americans (59 percent) said the IC plays a vital role in protecting the country, including 60 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Democrats, and 57 percent of independents. Larger numbers of silent Americans (78 percent of those born between 1928 and 1945) expressed this view in 2018, compared to 67 percent of baby boomers (born 1946–64), 58 percent of Gen X-ers (born 1965–80), and only 47 percent of millennials (born 1982–96);
- An overwhelming majority of Americans considered the intelligence agencies effective in accomplishing their assigned missions with nearly 8 in 10 crediting the IC for preventing terrorist attacks, including 85 percent of Republicans (up from 75 percent in 2017) and 78 percent of millennials (up from 64 percent in 2017);
- Only half of Americans (51 percent) believe the IC effectively safeguards their privacy and civil liberties while pursuing its mission;
- Almost all Americans (89 percent) agreed the IC should use all lawful means to gather intelligence;
- The number of Americans that believe our intelligence agencies should respect the rights of foreigners to the same degree as US citizens grew by 15 percentage points from 2017 (38 percent) to 2018 (53 percent);
- The overall number of Americans who agreed the IC could share more with the public without compromising its effectiveness increased from 2017 (rising from 54 percent to 65 percent), a view shared by nearly 7 in 10 millennials;
- Americans remain divided over which government officials or institutions should be responsible for supervising and overseeing the intelligence agencies.