Whether Apple or FBI is winning the PR war depends on which poll you're looking at

Americans stand firmly behind the FBI's effort to force Apple to unlock their phones, according to the latest polls.

Or they don't.

Poll results are all over the map. Some polls have revealed that a third of those surveyed aren’t even aware of the contentious debate over the locked iPhone.

Two leading polls show Americans siding with the FBI.

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The survey by Pew Research Center, one of the country’s leading non-partisan sources of public opinion research, showed that 51% of 1,002 adults surveyed by phone Feb. 18 to 21 said Apple should unlock the iPhone. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said Apple should not unlock the device.

International market research firm YouGov, which has a long record of accurate polling on public opinion in the U.S. and Great Britain, showed that 63% of Americans say Apple should obey the court order that they cooperate with the FBI in unlocking the San Bernardino phone. Twenty-three percent said they disagreed and Apple should not cooperate. The remainder of respondents said they weren’t sure.

The inconsistency in results may stem from the way the questions are worded.

YouGov’s question?

“Do you think Apple should or should not cooperate with federal authorities to unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters that a judge has ordered Apple to help unlock?"

An online poll by Reuters/Ipsos, also released Wednesday, showed that 46% of respondents said they agreed with Apple’s position, while only 35% said they disagreed. Twenty percent said they did not know.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was more comprehensive in laying out Apple’s case, explaining that “Apple is concerned that if it helps the FBI this time, it will be forced to help the government in future cases that may not be linked to national security, opening the door for hackers and potential future data breaches for smartphone users. Do you agree or disagree with Apple’s decision to oppose the court order?"

Pew’s question was somewhere in between YouGov’s and Reuters/Ipsos’. It told respondents that “the FBI had said that accessing the iPhone is an important part of their ongoing investigation into the San Bernardino attacks,” and “Apple has said that unlocking the iPhone could compromise the security of other users’ information."

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in an interview scheduled to air on ABC’s “World News Tonight”on Wednesday that he believed giving the FBI the software it seeks “would set a bad precedent that I think many people in America would be offended by."

He added: “Some things are hard, something things are right, and some things are both. This is one of those things."


Twitter: @traceylien


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