Poll: People behind WikiLeaks should be prosecuted

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 10, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Americans overwhelmingly think that WikiLeaks is doing more harm than good by releasing classified U.S. diplomatic cables, and they want to see the people behind it prosecuted, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

"Clearly people are very unhappy with it," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which conducted the national poll.

The survey found that 70 percent of Americans think the leaks are doing more harm than good by allowing America's enemies to see confidential and secret information about U.S. foreign policy.

Just 22 percent think the leaks are doing more good than harm by making the U.S. government more transparent and accountable, the stated goal of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The greatest opposition to the leaks comes from Republicans, 81 percent of whom call the leaks harmful. The strongest source of support is liberals, 35 percent of whom think the leaks do more good than harm. Even among liberals, though, a solid majority of 58 percent called the leaks more harmful than helpful.

The poll also found that 59 percent of Americans think those who publish secret U.S. documents should be prosecuted, while 31 percent said the publication of secrets is protected under the First Amendment guarantee of a free press.

Attitudes about freedom of press-versus-prosecution change with age:

  • Among those age 18 to 29, 52 percent said the publishers were protected by the First Amendment and 47 percent said they should be prosecuted.
  • Among those age 30 to 44, the numbers shifted to 37 percent for First Amendment protection and 50 percent for prosecution.
  • Among those age 45 to 59, it was 25 percent for protection and 65 percent for prosecution.
  • And among those 65 and older, it was 20 percent for protection and 68 percent for prosecution.

METHODOLOGY

This survey of 1,029 adults was conducted Dec. 2-8. Adults age 18 and older residing in the continental U.S. were interviewed by telephone. Telephone numbers were selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers. The two samples were then combined. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. There are 873 registered voters. The results for this subset have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.

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