In the past week the Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, the ABC News/Washington Post survey, and the Pew Research Center survey have all shown substantial public support for the CIA's interrogation methods of suspected terrorists. That consistency seems to be surprising for a number of people in light of the graphic detail contained in the Senate Democrats' Intelligence Committee report.
The results should not be surprising. In May of 2009, Resurgent Republic conducted a detailed survey on the CIA's techniques, including strong arguments supporting and opposing harsh interrogation. The results five years ago are remarkably similar to those being reported today.
By a margin of 53 to 34 percent, voters in that survey initially thought that harsh interrogation of detainees was justified. After a graphic description of particular techniques, support increased to 56 to 36 percent. By 52 to 39 percent, voters believed harsh interrogation techniques had made the country safer. And by 55 to 39 percent, they thought harsh interrogation was effective in saving American lives.
Moreover, making strong arguments on either side increased support for the techniques that were employed:
"Congressman A says America should never use harsh interrogation techniques on detainees, because they are torture. Those techniques undermine our values, hurt our standing in the world, endanger American troops who might be taken prisoner, and yield little or no useful information that could not be obtained by other means."
"Congressman B says that while harsh interrogation techniques of detainees should be used only rarely, they may be necessary in exceptional situations to protect the country. Those techniques are justified when they are the only way to stop the murder of another 3,000 innocent Americans in another 9/11."
By a margin of 61 to 34 percent, American voters choose the second argument supporting the use of harsh interrogation.
The full questionnaire and presentation are available below.