Poll: Majority Of Americans Say TSA Is Doing A Good Job

In a result that many are likely to find slightly surprising, Gallup finds that 54% of Americans approve of the job the TSA is doing in securing American airports:

PRINCETON, NJ — Despite recent negative press, a majority of Americans, 54%, think the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is doing either an excellent or a good job of handling security screening at airports. At the same time, 41% think TSA screening procedures are extremely or very effective at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplanes, with most of the rest saying they are somewhat effective.

The TSA in recent months has come under increased scrutiny, with some members of Congress calling for the agency to be privatized or disbanded. However, the current survey results, from Gallup interviewing conducted July 9-12, indicate that the average American has a more positive than negative impression of the TSA, even if the average American is not totally confident in the effectiveness of its procedures.

Given all the stories that have hit the press in the past two years or more about intrusive TSA searches and such, this probably will come as a surprise to many people. The immediate conclusion I jumped to before reading the poll was that it reflected a difference between Americans as a whole and those who fly frequently. However, the poll finds that there is now appreciable difference between frequent flyers and other Americans:

Just over half of Americans report having flown at least once in the past year. These fliers have a slightly better opinion of the job TSA is doing than those who haven’t flown. Fifty-seven percent of those who have flown at least once and 57% of the smaller group who have flown at least three times have an excellent or good opinion of the TSA’s job performance. That compares with 52% of those who have not flown in the past year.

There is little difference in opinions about the effectiveness of TSA’s screening procedures by flying status; between 40% and 42% of non-fliers, as well as of those who have flown at least once and those who have flown at least three times, believe the procedures are at least very effective.

I’m not sure what to make of these numbers other than to suggest that those who have been fighting a battle against the TSA for the past two years are apparently in the minority.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Public Opinion Polls, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jeff Quinton says:

    Not a surprise. Most of the people who interact with customers do a good job, despite the horror stories. The problem most people have with TSA is with their policies that are set above the pay grade of the people who interact with passengers.

  2. Tano says:

    those who have been fighting a battle against the TSA for the past two years are apparently in the minority.

    What is surprising is that you ever thought otherwise. It is a lot bigger country than what one encounters reading blogs and their comments. People who whine and complain make noise. People who do not, do not. If you want to get a sense of where “the people” are on an issue, you need to do more than listen to the sounds coming out of your favorite hangouts.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    The tiger repellent is working!

  4. Franklin says:

    Yeah, but it takes people who actually know something to have any sort of useful opinion. Most people in the U.S. simply don’t fly, ever. Their opinion of the TSA is irrelevant.

  5. Franklin says:

    (Reply was to Tano, not Mr. Schuler’s excellent comment.)

  6. stonetools says:

    Have any planes been hijacked and flown into buildings since 911? That’s the standard most people are using.

    I find the TSA security measures to be inconvenient, intrusive, and annoying-but then ALL effective security measures are inconvenient, intrusive, and annoying, in my experience.
    For example, creating and managing a system of strong passwords is much more of an annoyance to me than the TSA rigmarole-but I do it.
    The people who complain about TSA are for the most part an entitled bunch who use the Internet as a megaphone to broadcast their ire. They SOUND like the majority, but they’re not.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler‘s explanation is key. There have been, what, two serious terror attempts involving an aircraft in flight since 9/11 and zero 9/11 repeats. Whether TSA is a major factor in that or whether it’s mostly a function of hardening cockpit doors, increased passenger awareness, or terrorists simply looking for softer targets, we don’t know. But the public at large figures TSA’s job is getting done, so TSA must be effective.

    The complaints about TSA, on the other hand, involve inefficiency, inconvenience, and occasional incompetence. That’s a customer service issue, not an effectiveness issue.

  8. Neil Hudelson says:

    I think they are doing an excellent job. But I also have a fetish where I like strangers to see vague black and white photos of my nude body, but only if it looks like it was taken by an ultrasound.

    But I’m a little weird like that.

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    There are major differences between micro demographics with loud microphones and the populace at large. For every kook who twitches and foams at the mouth at the thought of the evil gummint screening them for bombs and weapons and such there are scores if not hundreds of regular people out there who understand that when the potential alternative is to get blow’d up to smithereens it’s a small enough price to pay.

    That said, however, the TSA is a government agency and like any government agency it’s replete with redundancies, inefficiencies, waste and boneheaded policies. It could be run a lot better, but by the same token it could be run a helluva lot worse.

  10. mantis says:

    My personal experience has not been terrible, though I find the horror stories disturbing and it seems a lot of effort is wasted on certain efforts.

    But Dave and James are right. If we continue to have no terror attacks on airplanes, people will continue to think the TSA is doing a good job. Who can argue with success, even if we can’t conclusively say that success is earned?

  11. C. Clavin says:

    On one hand there haven’t been any successful hi-jackings, terrorist attacks, etc. so maybe they are right.
    On the other hand 30% of Americans believe in ghosts.
    Such polls are best not used for making policy.

  12. Ben says:

    This is easily explained by the fact (indisputable) that since 9/11, this country is now largely made up of pants-wetting fraidy-cats, petrified by their shadows. And anything that makes itself look like it’s protecting us from these monsters in the closet is going to be supported, no matter how degrading and violating their policies are.

    I understand that I’ll never be able to convince those people to re-embrace freedom and self-determination. So I’ve voted with my wallet and stopped flying. I haven’t flown in 5 years, and will not do so for a long, long time. If I get a job that requires me to go somewhere far away, I will drive, or refuse to go (and quit, if necessary). Because I will not allow a TSA agent to violate me (or my family) in accordance with their procedures.

  13. al-Ameda says:

    I’ve flown many many times in recent years, and although the check-in routine – take off shoes, belt, watch etc … – is a drag, I cannot say that I’ve seen the TSA people treat people poorly. In fact it’s usually the morons who do not have their act together that create the problems that hold up the rest of us.

  14. Rob in CT says:

    I’ll just go with snark on this one:

    “Lisa, I would like to buy your rock.”

    [I see Schuler beat me to it]

  15. @C. Clavin:

    On one hand there haven’t been any successful hi-jackings, terrorist attacks, etc. so maybe they are right.

    Yeah, but the ones that have been attempted weren’t foiled by the TSA. The shoebomber or the underwear bomber didn’t get caught at the checkpoint. They failed because they got jumped by the other passengers.

  16. @Tsar Nicholas:

    For every kook who twitches and foams at the mouth at the thought of the evil gummint screening them for bombs and weapons and such there are scores if not hundreds of regular people out there who understand that when the potential alternative is to get blow’d up to smithereens it’s a small enough price to pay.

    I’m more concerned about getting skin cancer because the evil gummint is running me through an unlicensed, untested x-ray machine being operated by a guy with no training.

  17. Tano says:

    @Franklin:

    Yeah, but it takes people who actually know something to have any sort of useful opinion.

    I guess you missed this part of the article:

    “Just over half of Americans report having flown at least once in the past year. These fliers have a slightly better opinion of the job TSA is doing than those who haven’t flown. Fifty-seven percent of those who have flown at least once and 57% of the smaller group who have flown at least three times have an excellent or good opinion of the TSA’s job performance. That compares with 52% of those who have not flown in the past year.”

    The people who know are the ones who are most supportive of TSA.

    Despite the splashy, breathless tabloid like outrage stories that so many bloggers feed on, the fact is that tens of millions of people pass through TSA checkpoints without the slightest difficulty. That is probably why frequent fliers are more supportive – they know from their own experience that the outrages are not something they have ever seen.

  18. Tano says:

    @Ben:

    I will not allow a TSA agent to violate me (or my family) in accordance with their procedures.

    And you are calling other people “pants-wetting fraidy-cats, petrified by their shadows”???

    lol

  19. James Joyner says:

    @Tano:

    That is probably why frequent fliers are more supportive – they know from their own experience that the outrages are not something they have ever seen.

    But, again, it’s a mixed bag. We know that TSA agents are generally professional and that the wild things that make the news are aberrations. At the same time, I think we’re more acutely aware of how silly and annoying much of the process is. But the question isn’t geared toward eliciting responses about inconvenience or silliness but toward “effectiveness” at avoiding terrorist incidents.

  20. Ben says:

    @Tano:

    I don’t want some random schlub groping me or my children or photographing us naked, thank you very much. That isn’t being a fraidy-cat. That’s called having some f***ing integrity.

  21. Tano says:

    @Ben:

    That’s called having some f***ing integrity.

    Whatever stories you need to tell yourself Ben.
    fwiw, I’ve been through the lines countless times and I still have my integrity, as do the other tens of millions of people who have flown in recent years.

    Ya really can’t let yourself be intimidated by the tabloids ya know…

  22. Xerxes says:

    What can I say? I guess some people get aroused when they are getting the patdown from strangers. It must be a sexual high and it gets them off

  23. Ben says:

    @Tano:

    It’s not about tabloids. It’s about what I personally experienced, which was having a 400 pound guy with his hands feeling up the crotch of my pants. No thanks.

  24. al-Ameda says:

    @Ben:

    @Tano:
    It’s not about tabloids. It’s about what I personally experienced, which was having a 400 pound guy with his hands feeling up the crotch of my pants. No thanks.

    I have not once been frisked as you describe, during any of the many check-ins I’ve been through at numerous airports across the country. If it did happen as you describe there is no doubt that I wouldn’t like it – but what am I going to do, stop flying to destinations across the country and drive it? Or take a cab?

  25. Tano says:

    So Ben, are you like permanently traumatized by this experience? You really are not going to fly because some poor guy was doing his job to assure us all that you were not a terrorist, and came oh so close to your precious parts????

    Somehow this attitude of yours doesn’t quite match up with all the chest-beating you did in your first comment, y’know what I mean?

  26. anjin-san says:

    The complaints about TSA, on the other hand, involve iThe complaints about TSA, on the other hand, involve inefficiency, inconvenience

    That and quite a few rants on the right about how Obama is using the TSA as a “training ground for tyranny.”

    OTB posted obsessively about the TSA for a spell, does “inefficiency & inconvenience” generally get that much ink?

  27. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: Doug was having a field day for a while cataloging the various Outrage of the Day stories, when everyone from Henry Kissinger to little old ladies being singled out for harassment. My own postings over the years have mostly argued:

    1. Having government law enforcement conduct searches of people without reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause, on the incredibly small chance that one of us is a terrorist is an unreasonable search in violation of the 4th Amendment.

    2. The bureaucraticization of security has a lot of dumb consequences, including various searches of shoes, restrictions on the size of toothpaste tubes one might carry, and so forth.

    3. The added time caused by all of this makes flying much less pleasant and efficient than it could be while adding almost zero gain in safety.

    I don’t think it’s Fascism Lite or that the average TSA agent is a pervert or sadist; I just think the whole thing is a frustrating waste of resources, including millions of man hours of paying customers. Further, it’s quite likely that by encouraging people to drive moderate length trips that they might previously have chosen to fly instead is causing more people to die on the highway than we’ve saved with the new security measures.

  28. Bill Fisher says:

    Gallup reported that 54% think TSA does a decent job while 44% don’t, hardly a ringing endorsement. The poll has a 4% margin of error and sample of 1,014 indicating that Americans are largely divided on whether the agency is doing a good job or not.

    The Gallup data clearly shows that 58% found TSA less than effective. Since security effectiveness is their only responsibility how can this be construed as favorable? Whether or not people think they are doing a job, it is clear that they don’t think TSA is effective.

    So should a plane explode because of TSA incompetence and TSA responds that America thinks they do a good job that makes it okay?

    Gallup’s own data shows that 48% of respondents have not flown in a year or more and are not familiar with the agency or its procedures.

    A more realistic interpretation of Gallup’s data is that 75% of Americans rarely if ever fly and as non-fliers are ambivalent to or unaware of TSA’s poor performance record.

    Perhaps Mr. Jones of Gallup will comment on why this obvious alternative wasn’t mentioned in the press analysis and the media’s favorable interpretations of the poll data.

    And how does anyone explain how only 12 people who flew more than five times in the past year suffice for anyone to conclude that millions of frequent fliers view TSA favorably?

    When any pollster selectively structures questions and the media editorializes the results, it is the reader’s responsibility to examine the results critically.