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USF survey finds Americans want more done about classified information security

A split photo of two men standing at podiums, speaking. One motions with both hands, the other, just his right hand.
Daylina Miller, WUSF / Associated Press
A USF School of Public Affairs survey finds that 59% of Americans polled thought former President Donald Trump had violated the law with his handling of classified national documents; for President Joe Biden, it’s 48%.

A bipartisan majority (59%) of those polled by USF believe that elected officials are not doing enough to protect classified information.

A new survey by researchers from the University of South Florida shows where American voters stand when it comes to concerns about national security, the handling of classified information by elected officials, and the wars in Israel and Ukraine.

The survey, which was conducted the week of October 23-28, sampled 1,200 eligible American voters.

The findings come as the country prepares for the 2024 presidential elections in which these issues are likely to play a prominent role.

It found that a bipartisan majority (59%) of those polled believe that elected officials are not doing enough to protect classified information.

Lead researcher Stephen Neely is an associate professor at the USF School of Public Affairs. He said that elected leaders are experiencing an image problem.

A lack of trust

“What we’re seeing is that less than half of eligible voters trust our elected leaders to protect our nation’s most sensitive secrets, and that’s a problem,” said Neely, “People have to trust their elected leaders and the democratic institutions that represent them."

People were also asked whether they thought former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden had violated the law regarding their handling of classified national documents. For Trump, 59% of Americans said “yes”, while for Biden, it’s 48%.

A vast majority (69%) of voters, including 51% of Republicans, believe that elected officials convicted of violating classified documents laws should be barred from holding public office in the future.

“Half of Trump’s own party is saying that a guilty verdict should be a disqualifying factor,” said Neely.

The survey also asked voters about their views on global conflicts, such as the wars in Israel and Ukraine.

When it comes to the Israeli fight against Hamas, 59% of Americans polled supported providing military aid to Israel in the form of weapons and ammunition, but the same percentage said they oppose committing U.S. troops to fight on the ground against Hamas in Palestine.

Israel vs. Palestine

“That doesn’t mean that 41% support (involving American troops), it means that a lot of people are unsure on what that would look like,” said Neely. “There’s a very strong opposition to more active U.S. involvement.”

Neely said one interesting finding is that 66% of the people sampled think that the U.S. should provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians impacted by the conflict.

“This tells me that most Americans are seeing and understanding that there is a distinction between Palestine and Hamas,” Neely said. “Most Americans recognize that this is not just a military conflict, but also a humanitarian crisis.”

When it came to the war in Ukraine, Democrats polled strongly support providing additional military aid to Ukraine, with 68% in favor, compared to only 45% of Republican voters.

On the other hand, most Democrats (57%) believe that America’s financial aid and support of Ukraine has been “worth the cost”, while 58% of Republicans disagree.

However, a majority (75%) of those questioned agree that the United States could be drawn into a military conflict with Russia over its support of Ukraine.

Regardless of political affiliations, Neely advised voters to tune into the Republican primary presidential debate that will happen in Miami on November 8. Trump is not scheduled to take part.

"It should be a more meaningful discussion with a small field and, whether we like or not, campaigns set the debate for public policy moving forward," he said. "The way that the Israeli conflict gets talked about in that debate will be very important."

For more detailed survey findings, click here.

João Victor Pina is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for fall of 2023.
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