Introduction

Every fall and spring, the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) releases America's largest poll of young people. The poll usually gets a great deal of national coverage. Unfortunately, much of this coverage only goes skin deep, highlighting the supposed apathy of young people in America and our cynicism about the future of politics. This project, a partnership between HPOP and the HPR, aims to provide some additional context and analysis. Indeed, on everything from Internet privacy to college tuition, millennials don't seem to fit any convenient political mold. They're deep thinking, conflicted, and crucial to America's future. Read our articles to find out more. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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HPRgument Posts | December 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

The Contrasting Images of President Obama and Edward Snowden

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“Based on what you know at this time, which of these words best describes your view of Edward Snowden?” The Harvard Public Opinion Project asked this question to thousands of millennials from the ages of 18 to 25 in its recent poll. Respondents were presented with the options of “a patriot,” “a traitor,” “not sure,” and the choice to refuse to answer. In the wake of the controversy surrounding Edward Snowden’s release of classified details about NSA surveillance programs, over half of the millennial poll respondents were “not sure” about whether Edward Snowden should be considered a patriot or a traitor.

Favorability of President Obama and Edward Snowden Inversely Linked

Interestingly, though, respondents’ opinions on President Obama and aspects of his tenure in office are inversely linked to their views of Edward Snowden. Twenty-seven percent of poll respondents who disapproved of President Obama considered Edward Snowden a patriot, as opposed to only 18 percent of those who approved of the president – a significant difference. Meanwhile, young millennials who approved of the president considered Mr. Snowden a traitor in a markedly higher percentage (26 percent) than those who disapproved of the president (20 percent).

The poll respondents’ perspectives on individual aspects of the president’s tenure in office are similarly connected to their opinions of Edward Snowden. Generally, respondents who expressed positive views of America’s direction and the Affordable Care Act, signifiers of approval of the president, were more likely to view Mr. Snowden as a traitor. A higher percentage of respondents who had negative views of these issues considered Mr. Snowden a patriot.

Edward Snowden was viewed more positively by respondents unhappy with America’s direction. Those who responded that America is on the wrong track considered Mr. Snowden a patriot in a greater proportion (30 percent) than those who considered the country’s direction mixed or positive (16 percent of each of these groups). Those who believe America is headed in the right direction considered Mr. Snowden a traitor (36 percent) in a significantly higher percentage than their peers who believe America is on the wrong track (19 percent) or on a mixed track (20 percent).

President Obama has been in office since early 2009, and it is only reasonable that by December of 2013, young millennials’ views on America’s direction should be linked to their opinions of the chief executive. Nearly 9 out of 10 poll respondents who think the country is on the right track approve of the president (88 percent). Only 19 percent of their peers who think America is on the wrong track approve of the president. Young millennials’ perspectives on President Obama are deeply connected to their opinions about the direction of the nation, which in turn are inversely related to their views on Edward Snowden.

A link also exists between respondents’ disapproval of the Affordable Care Act and their view of Edward Snowden as a patriot. Respondents who disapproved of the ACA considered Mr. Snowden a patriot in a significantly higher percentage (26 percent) than those who approved of the healthcare reform (20 percent). The Affordable Care Act, linked to President Obama by its very nickname of “Obamacare,” is intended to be a cornerstone of the president’s legacy. The fact that poll respondents who disapproved of this characteristic Obama initiative were more likely to consider Edward Snowden a patriot further underscores the inverse relationship of favorable views of the president and Edward Snowden among young millennials.

Edward Snowden challenged the national status quo by leaking information about the NSA under President Obama’s administration. It is not entirely surprising, therefore, that those who viewed one figure positively were more likely to view the other negatively, but the connection is clear and has important implications for people seeking to understand the critical perspectives of young people in this dynamic nation.

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