Privacy and the 2008 Election

poll1.jpgIs privacy an issue of concern to voters in the 2008 presidential election? Which candidates do voters think will best protect privacy?

These questions are addressed in a new poll by the Ponemon Institute. According to Bob Sullivan’s discussion of the poll in MSNBC’s Red Tape blog:

Asked to select both the Democratic and Republican candidate they believe is most likely to “advance your privacy rights,” respondents preferred Obama over Hillary Clinton and John Edwards by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio, with 43 percent naming Obama compared to 25 percent for Edwards and 23 percent for Clinton. . . .

On the Republican side, John McCain was the top choice, named by 39 percent of respondents, but Mitt Romney’s 35 percent was within the poll’s margin of error. Rudy Giuliani was picked by 15 percent of those polled, with Ron Paul and Fred Thompson each named by less than 5 percent.

The poll also revealed that privacy is an especially important issue among young voters:

Ponemon’s poll produced other surprises. It suggested young voters are more privacy-sensitive than previously believed. Among 18- to 28-year-olds, the MySpace-Facebook generation, 54 percent said privacy issues would be a factor in determining their choice for president, significantly higher than the 40 percent rating among the general population.

Previous polls indicated that younger tech consumers tend to be less worried about privacy than older Americans . . . .

I commented about the poll for Sullivan’s article, and I expressed skepticism about the meaning of the results:

Polling on issue like privacy is a challenge, which makes interpreting survey results difficult, said privacy law expert Daniel Solove, a professor at George Washington University and author of several privacy-related books, including the newly published “The Future of Reputation.”

“When you ask a question that broad … I don’t even know if I could answer that question if I got polled,” Solove said. “Some candidates might be strong on identity theft or information sharing but not on national security and privacy, for example.”

For many voters, he explained, consumer privacy issues — such as the collection of information by companies — are viewed very differently from civil liberties issues like surveillance. When you ask about privacy, it’s hard to precisely define the term. “The question is, when (poll takers) say privacy, what do people think of?”

The complete poll results are here.

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