About a week and a half ago, the FBI and the US court system dropped an ex parte
mandate on Apple. That order, demanding that Cook and company somehow penetrate an iPhone 5c used by one of the shooters in San Bernardino, California last December, launched a wide public debate about smartphone encryption. Most of the focus has been on the conflict between the government and tech companies. MacNN
took to polling again, to try and get some numbers on what the US public thought this last weekend about the issue.
The polling was undertaken in person, in one shopping mall and two strip malls in central and Northern Virginia on Saturday, February 27. More results were garnered from one mall and one strip mall in central Maryland on Sunday, February 28. One Northern Virginia mall had an Apple store, but the polling location was as far away from the Apple store as possible, while still being in the mall itself.
After an initial age-qualifying question, ensuring all of those questioned were 18 years of age or older, 3,981 people were addressed. The first two questions involved device ownership: regarding smartphones, 1,387 had Android smartphones, 2,425 had an iPhone, and 40 had both. We used the smartphone ownership question as disqualifying criteria, with 129 non-smartphone-owning respondents cut from the rest of the survey -- leaving 3,852 in the pool.
Tablets were a different matter, with 904 owning Android only, 2,012 just having one of Apple's iPads, and 102 having both. Interestingly, 834 of our respondents didn't own a tablet -- but as this wasn't a disqualifying question, they remain in the data pool.
The next question was about education level. Of our 3,852-strong respondent collection, 154 didn't graduate high school, and 847 had a high school graduation or GED as the highest level of education received. Four-year degrees were held by 2,051 of our respondents, with 308 having post-graduate degrees, and 492 having some college, but not a four-year degree. Unrelated to education level, 296 of our respondents were either active duty military, or had some level of military service.
Political affiliation was addressed: 1,580 of our respondents identified as Republican, with 1,541 claiming Democratic affiliation. The rest, 731, said they identified as independent, undeclared, or other.
So, demographics out of the way, on to the meat of the poll.
"If you are aware of the current dispute between Apple and the FBI over smartphone encryption, do you more closely agree with the FBI or with Apple's position on the matter?"
Most of our participants knew about what was going on, but 108 claimed to have no idea on which side they preferred, leaving 3,744 in our pool. Of the respondents, 1,422 (38 percent) more closely sided with the FBI, but a whopping 2,322 (62 percent) agreed with Apple's view of the discussion.
Closer examination of the data
Of the 3,744 not disqualified -- made up of 1,560 Republicans, 1,508 Democrats, and 676 independents or undeclared -- a correlation between political affiliation and opinion emerged in the polling. Of the Republican-affiliated respondents, 1,001 (64 percent) sided with the FBI and Department of Justice, demanding that Apple develop whatever the agency needs to penetrate the phone. On the Democrat side, only 300 of 1,508 (20 percent) sided with the US government, with independent/undeclared adding 121 of 676 (18 percent) to that.
Level of education mattered a great deal as well. Respondents with a high school degree or less generally favored the government, claiming 781 out of 1,001 respondents (78 percent). On the other hand, respondents with a four-year degree or post-graduate education contributed 1,911 pro-Apple votes out of 2,359 asked (81 percent). There appeared to be no significant correlation between educational level and political party affiliation.
There was also no discernible difference in the polling data between Android and Apple owners, nor in that between current and past military members compared to the civilian population.
What can be gathered from this round of polling?
In our poll population, spanning middle to upper-class shopping markets, 62 percent claimed to stand with Apple. Given a likely five percent margin of error, and comparing this to other polls run since the beginning of the court order also trending in the same direction, it appears that public sentiment continues to shift towards Apple.
Related to this polling, this week's MacNN Podcast
is strongly opinionated, and falls heavily on Apple's side of the discussion. However, we are very clear in the episode that education on the matter is key, regardless of what informed opinion materializes as a result. While MacNN
took a strong Constitutionally-based position
early on, we have seen that further revelations and growing public education on the issue are causing a big shift in results. Shortly after this story broke last week, initial polls
found the public slightly favoring the FBI's position.
While this manner of polling is telling, it isn't the entire story. The debate, while public, will not be solved by a public referendum. It will be hammered out in the halls of government, courthouses, and in the boardrooms of America. Knowing that that's the case, the only solution is to let the Silicon Valley vendor of your choice, plus your elected representatives, know where you stand after educating yourself, as a consumer and a voter, on this issue.