LBJ School professors shine light on Americans’ perception of intelligence agencies | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers explore the proper role of intelligence in democracy.


AUSTIN, Texas (May 31, 2018) –  A new study from professors at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin aims to shed light on Americans’ perception of intelligence agencies, and to test the claim that efforts by these agencies to be more open will enhance democratic legitimacy.

Key findings include:

  • Americans generally regard the intelligence community as effective, particularly in preventing terrorism and learning the plans of hostile powers.
  • Americans are less convinced the intelligence community is respectful of privacy and civil liberties.
  • Less informed Americans, particularly younger people, are less likely to view the intelligence community as effective.
  • Americans broadly are supportive of the intelligence community using all lawful means to acquire intelligence but are divided on the need for surrendering privacy rights.
  • Republicans are even more likely than Democrats or Independents to say the intelligence community helps the country produce sound foreign policies.
  • Though less than a majority, Democrats were more likely than Republicans or Independents to support protecting the privacy rights of foreigners.

There is little data on public perceptions of U.S. intelligence, and none that mirrors the scope and purpose of this survey. The study’s lead authors, Stephen Slick, a clinical professor at the LBJ School and Director of the Intelligence Studies Project at UT, and Joshua Busby, an associate professor of public affairs and a Distinguished Scholar at the Strauss Center, said the goals of this study are to inform scholarly and general debate on the proper role of intelligence in democracy and to help officials in the intelligence community design public-facing programs that respond most directly to the actual knowledge, beliefs and concerns of Americans.

“In recent years, our intelligence leaders have taken unprecedented steps to make these agencies less secretive and more accessible, and our polling will help test whether this initiative translates over time into broader support and democratic legitimacy,” Slick said.

“We hope this report provides some detail on how Americans broadly think about the intelligence community,” Busby said. “We also are able to begin to understand important differences between groups by examining differences by gender, partisanship, knowledge and age.”

Researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of 1,000 Americans.

The study is available online via The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Funding for this research was provided by the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, the Clements Center for National Security and the Texas National Security Network