Surprisingly, despite all of the negative Internet commentary and Congressional complaining about the Transportation Security Administration, the majority of U.S. travelers have a positive opinion of the agency.
Not only that, but people who fly, and who are exposed to TSA screening, have an even more positive opinion than people who rarely or never fly.
According to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, 54% of Americans think the TSA is doing either an excellent or a good job of handling security screening at airports. Moreover, among Americans who have flown at least once in the past year, 57% have an excellent or good opinion of the agency.
As far as TSA effectiveness at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplanes, 41% think the screening procedures are extremely or very effective. Another 44% think the procedures are somewhat effective. That number varies little for people who fly somewhat regularly and people who rarely or never fly.
The poll was conducted with telephone interviews July 9th through July 12. Gallup interviewed 1,014 adults living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Interestingly, younger Americans “have significantly more positive opinions of the TSA than those who are older,” Gallup said, noting that 67% of people between 18 and 29 rate the agency as excellent or good. This may be because young people fly more frequently, or it may be because that for young people TSA screening, first implemented in 2001, has been part of their flying experience for the majority of their lives.
Criticism of the TSA seems to come primarily from two sources. One is Internet sites, where reporting standards are generally not at the same level as newspapers, where reporters are taught to consider what is told to them with skepticism and to seek responses to charges.
On Wednesday, some sites were repeating charges by a man who said that his wife was admitted to the emergency room for treatment after TSA agents at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport harassed her and subjected her to closed door screening after metal in her bra set off an alarm. The man said his wife was subject to a brutal rape three years ago and is still recovering from the psychological impact.
Without denigrating the man or his wife in any way, it is possible to say that the TSA is put into a difficult situation when such charges are posted with little or no fact checking by reporters.
As for Congress, the House Homeland Security Committee’s Transportation Security Subcommittee recently convened a hearing on the topic: “Breach of Trust: Addressing Misconduct Among TSA Screeners.”
According to About.com, “It didn’t take (committee chairman) Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) long to set the tone for the day, saying in his opening statement: “Stealing from checked luggage; accepting bribes from drug smugglers; sleeping or drinking while on duty — this kind of criminal behavior and negligence has contributed significantly to TSA’s shattered public image.”
Now there is a poll to show that in fact, TSA does not have actually have a bad public image. And here, it is worth mentioning that the public image of Congress is not so good, perhaps reflecting a tendency to be excessively critical of perceived enemies rather than to seek compromise and solve problems.
But not everyone is buying it:
Gallup TSA poll biased?
A recent Gallup poll was reported in Politico and other sources saying that most Americans believe that the TSA’s procedures are effective.
From Politico:About 54 percent of Americans say the Transportation Security Administration is doing an excellent or good job while another 30 percent said TSA is doing a fair job, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday afternoon. Twelve percent of respondents said the security arm is doing a poor job.
Ironically, this comes on the day when two more TSA screeners in Atlanta were indicted for drug trafficking, bringing the total number of TSA workers charged with smuggling contraband through security to 12 in 20 months.
Interestingly, in a recent interview, TSA Administrator John Pistole acknowledged that a Wall Street Journal poll indicated that “customer satisfaction with his agency, according to a recent poll, is 38 percent, although some airline travelers may think that is on the high side.” The article also states:The negative perception is 43 percent with respondents, according to The Wall Street Journal, mentioning a perception of ‘TSA incompetence and overstepping its authority.’ Anybody who flies regularly has seen both.
But there’s plenty of nuance that these articles neglect. Reading the Gallup version of the report and the supporting detail provides a different view.
A favorite phrase of TSA spokesmen is “The screeners have to succeed every time, the terrorists only once.” This statement implies that that the structure of the questions may have led to some bias in the results, since, according to TSA’s own philosophy, this is a pass-fail proposition. If the results are recast using this premise, then they can be distilled into two categories: Reliable and Not Reliable. The Extremely and Very Effective results would qualify as being in the Reliable category, and the Somewhat, Not Very, and Not Effective would be in the Not Reliable category. (There’s no explaining how the ubiquitous No Opinion people can be so oblivious to reality that they can’t form a thought, but that’s for another discussion.)
From the Gallup detail:
56% 44% How Effective do you think TSA’s screening procedures are at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplane? Reliable Not Reliable No Opinion Extremely 9 Very 32 Somewhat 44 Not Very 8 Not 5 No Opinion 4
When these results are aggregated into logical categories, the majority — 51 respondents of 98 with an opinion — found these procedures Not Reliable. Put another way, only 41 of 98 respondents, or 42%, found TSA procedures Reliable, while 58% of respondents found them Not Reliable.
With the question regarding whether TSA is doing a good job, the results are slightly more favorable but still less than stellar for an agency that told Congress that “everyone loves us” only last week. Applying a similar pass-fail analysis, the recast results from the Gallup poll are not as rosy as the articles would imply. Instead of reliability, the standards would simply be Acceptable or Unacceptable. Both Excellent and Good are Acceptable, and the remainder are Unacceptable.
From the Gallup detail:
Do you think TSA is doing an excellent, good, only fair or poor job? Acceptable Unacceptable No Opinion Excellent 13 Good 41 Fair 30 Poor 12 No Opinion 4 TOTAL 54 42 4
In this breakdown, 54% find the procedures Acceptable, while 44% find them Unacceptable. Given that the poll allows a 4% margin of error on a sample of 1,014 respondents, the poll indicates that Americans are largely divided on whether the agency is doing a good job or not.
The article also implies that frequent fliers are equally impressed with TSA’s performance, but the details do not support this conclusion. The article states “Frequent fliers and sporadic travelers offered similarly positive views about TSA, as did fliers with or without young children, often a sore subject in the news media.”
A review of the results, however, reveals that a whopping 75% of respondents made less than two round trips in the past year, and nearly half have not flown at all. Only 12% would remotely qualify as frequent fliers, making 5 or more round trips in a year.
How many round trips have you taken in last 12 months? None 48% 1-2 27% 3-4 13% 5 or more 12%
Other questions also remain unclear. The poll failed to ask if people had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the TSA workers they encounter. Anecdotal evidence, eyewitness testimony, and comments on published TSA stories would predict that the answer to this would have been overwhelmingly negative.
Gallup didn’t disclose who sponsored the poll or if the TSA or one of its vendors had any input on it. As we all know by now, pollsters can get any result they want by controlling the way questions are asked and the group that is polled. This would explain why other Gallup polls, particularly those on political issues, are often at odds with other equally respected polls.
The fact remains that no matter how many fluff pieces or favorable polls get published on behalf of the TSA, many Americans are sick and tired of this agency and its corrupt workers.
HuffPo and Politico also have articles on the poll. And last but not least, here's the poll itself.
I took the liberty of bolding the one paragraph in the Forbes article where they address criticisms of the TSA. Somehow I'm just not surprised that a media organization devoted to rich white ablebodied cis straight men doesn't have a problem with the TSA.
Basically I wanted to gather up the data and articles in one place so everyone can dive in and decide for themselves.