Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What NJ thinks about Airport Screening

Our final statewide survey for 2010 has just come out of the field, and we'll be doing releases on it this week and next. For our first release we thought we'd look at the airport security controversy and see what New Jerseyans really think about it.

For this battery of questions, we included an experiment where we asked a general question about support for security measures either before (version 1) or after (version 2) we asked about the specific screening methods that were causing all the uproar at Thanksgiving. The idea is to see whether people have a different feeling about airport security overall when they are prompted to think about full body scans or pat-downs.

First, whether asked before or after, New Jerseyans overall are pretty supportive of security measures "no matter how intrusive". But, when we ask them to think about scans or pat downs before we ask the general question, those who are asked about pat downs are LESS likely to support "any" security measure, and they are much more likely to say the pat down goes too far. Those asked about scans however, do not see them as too intrusive, nor does thinking about scans make them less supportive of security measures overall.

The upshot? The scans are seen as OK, but the pat downs are a different story, with far less support.

We also look at those who fly regularly (at least two or three times a year or more) versus those who rarely fly (either never, or once a year at the most). This question splits the sample almost exactly in half, with 50.5% in the more frequent and 49.5% in the less frequent category. Interestingly frequent flyers are a little more supportive of the full body scans and much LESS supportive of the pat downs than are less frequent flyers, who strongly support both screening methods.

The text of the release follows. The full release with tables can be read here.

New Jerseyans Less Favorable Toward TSA Measures the More They Think about Them.

NEW BRUNSWICK – Support among New Jerseyans for new airport security measures introduced in November varies depending on how the question is asked, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. When initially asked about support for “any airport security measure” or whether some security measures “go too far violating personal privacy,” 50 percent support any security measure, while 41 percent say some measures go too far. But when asked first to think about either the new full body scans or enhanced pat-downs, support for airport security measures overall declines substantially, with only 39 percent supporting any security measure while 59 percent say some measures go too far violating personal privacy.

Garden Staters are much more supportive of the full body scans than they are of the enhanced pat-downs now used by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) for those who refuse the scans. More than 6 in 10 (62 percent) say the scans are necessary for airport security, while 54 percent say the same about the pat-down procedure.

“In the abstract, most people think more airport security is always a good thing,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “But it’s one thing to support security in the abstract; it is another to confront specific procedures. While New Jerseyans generally support the new TSA measures, given a chance to think about it, they are not so thrilled about the possibility of having intimate areas patted down.”

The poll of 906 New Jersey adults was conducted December 2-6. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. Random groups of respondents were asked about either full body scans or enhanced pat-down security measures. These groups can each be generalized to the state adult population and compared. Random subsamples have margins of error from +/- 4.4 to +/- 5.0 percentage points, depending on subsample size.

Respondents find full body pat-downs more intrusive than body scans

New Jerseyans have paid a great deal of attention to the controversy over full body scanning and pat-downs implemented by the TSA. But the full body scans are perceived to be significantly less intrusive than pat-downs. When asked if full body scans “producing a nude image” are “too intrusive without increasing real security,” or “are needed to keep the public safe,” only 30 percent say scans are too intrusive, compared to 41 percent who say that pat-downs are too intrusive.

“While there is strong support for full body scans in New Jersey, the new pat-down procedures are seen as much more intrusive,” said Redlawsk. “Even so, most New Jerseyans would put up with them, believing they enhance security on airplanes.”

Differences between more and less frequent flyers

About half of New Jerseyans fly at least “a couple times a year,” while half fly only once a year or less often (including 10 percent who say they never fly). More frequent flyers are more aware of the controversy: 92 percent are very aware, compared to 61 percent of those who fly less often. And more frequent flyers are initially more supportive of “any airport security measure” at 59 percent compared to 43 percent of less frequent flyers. There is little difference between the two groups in believing full body scans are needed for safety; only about 30 percent of both groups think they are too intrusive. But 52 percent of frequent flyers say that pat-downs are too intrusive, while less frequent flyers are more supportive of pat-downs, with only 31 percent saying pat-downs are too intrusive.

Pat-downs may deter individuals from flying

When asked if knowing that flying requires respondents to go through a full body scan would affect their frequency of flying, 3 percent say that a full scan would make them more likely to fly, 11 percent say it would make them less likely and 86 percent say it would not affect the frequency of their air travel. The new pat-down procedure causes much more concern, with 24 percent saying they are less likely to fly because of it, while 69 percent say their flying plans would not be affected by this measure, and 4 percent say they would fly more often. Frequent flyers in particular are more likely to say they would fly less given the pat-downs, at 27 percent, compared to 21 percent of less frequent flyers.

“While the prospect of a full body scan has little effect on flying plans, the pat-downs bother many more people,” said Redlawsk. “More than a quarter of those who fly more often say they would cut back on their flying if they had to go through a pat-down. This should be of some worry to the airlines, since those who fly most often are the ones who bring in the most revenue. On the other hand, frequent flyers are generally fine with going through the full body scanners, and if they do so, they generally will not be subject to pat-downs. But the prospect of such a procedure causes many to think twice about flying.”

Women are more supportive of new measures

When it comes to using full body scanners or pat-downs, women are more supportive than men: 70 percent of women say the scanners are necessary for security, while only 54 percent of men agree. Only 23 percent of women think they are too intrusive, compared to 37 percent of men. The difference in opinion on pat-downs is not as great: 59 percent of women say they are necessary for security, compared to 48 percent of men, while 45 percent of men find pat-downs too intrusive versus only 37 percent of women.

Older people are more likely to say scanners are necessary: 71 percent of those over 65 compared to 62 percent of 18 to 29 year olds support the use of scanners. But younger people are far more likely to support pat-downs, with 67 percent of those under 30 saying pat-downs are necessary, versus only 53 percent of those over 65.

Thinking about new security procedures increases concern

An experiment shows that New Jerseyans are more willing to support security measures if they have not been asked first to think about the details of pat-downs or full body scans. One group of respondents was randomly selected to express their support for, or opposition against new security measures at the beginning of the series of security questions. The other group was not asked this question until after being asked specifically about support for the procedures.

When asked about their support for security measures first, 50 percent support any measure that might increase security, while 41 percent say some measures go too far. When the same question was asked only after three other questions about pat-downs or scans, support for security measures drops substantially: only 39 percent favor any measure while 59 percent say some measures go too far. Frequent flyers change the most; only 36 percent feel some measures go to far when asked before the security questions, while 64 percent say some measures go too far when asked after questions about specific security measures.

“We must be cautious in interpreting the public’s response to these new airport security measures,” said Redlawsk. “Asked in a vacuum without reference to specific measures, the public is generally supportive of almost anything they think might make airplanes safer. But when they are given information about specific measures, they are much more dubious across the board. In the abstract people say ‘keep me safe at all costs,’ but when confronted with potential invasions of privacy, they are more willing to balance their own privacy against security issues.”

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