78% Americans Say Public Video Surveillance Good Idea

Author: John Honovich, Published on Apr 30, 2013

The New York Times and CBS News has conducted a poll of 965 people that found an overwhelming majority believe public video surveillance is a good idea. Here is the actual question and response breakdown:

On the plus side, these are reputable organizations, not the typical skewed manufacturer survey attempts. Plus, given the reputation of the 'liberal media' being against surveillance, such results are even more impressive.

Moreover, the same question was asked 8 years ago with similar results, indicating that this is not an aberration arising from a short term response to the Boston bombings:

However, serious questions on the framing of the question exist:

  • It leads with the 'plus side' of surveillance, rather than its downside. If the order was reversed, the percentage thinking it was a 'good idea' would clearly be lower. How much lower is unknown.
  • It only focuses on terrorism and privacy, rather than the cost of surveillance. If it would have asked 'Do you think it is a good idea to pay $136,000 per functional surveillance camera, as they do in Philadelphia?" the answer would certainly be far different.
  • It does not address how many public surveillance cameras is a good idea. Is 100 in NYC good? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? The public likely have a non trivial limit on what it thinks is a good idea but this poll does not address.

If you are looking for a reputable, independent validation of the public demand for video surveillance, this is the best we have seen. However, keep in mind, the limitations in the poll's structure.


The demographic breakdown reveals important differences:

  • Men are far more opposed to public video surveillance than woman (with more than double the men thinking it is a bad idea - 22% to 9%).
  • Young people are nearly 3x more likely to oppose public video surveillance than old people (with 23% under 29 thinking it is a bad idea while only 8% of those older than 65).
  • Interestingly, neither political affiliation nor education had a massive difference

The full excerpt is below:

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