Americans really don’t want to see Edward Snowden pardoned

Sorry, Internet.


Eric Geller


Published Aug 12, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 4:28 am CDT

Americans largely oppose the idea of a pardon for NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden.

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A new Morning Consult poll found that only 33 percent of Americans said they would be OK with President Barack Obama pardoning Snowden, who stole a massive cache of documents from the National Security Agency and fled the United States. Snowden intended to seek refuge in another country but ended up stuck in Russia after the U.S. revoked his passport.

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While the percentage of respondents opposing a pardon (43 percent) was just 10 points higher than those who support it, strong opposition (27 percent) outweighed strong support (16 percent).

Overall, 53 percent of Americans supported the federal criminal charges against Snowden.

Overall, 53 percent of Americans supported the federal criminal charges against Snowden. That attitude crossed party lines, with 56 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans supporting criminal charges. Slightly less than 30 percent of poll respondents said they “strongly supported” charging Snowden.

On the question of a pardon, Democrats were more divided than Republicans over whether Obama should grant one. Whereas well over half of Republicans opposed a pardon and only 24 percent supported one, Democrats were almost evenly split, with 39 percent supporting a pardon and 38 percent opposing it.

In late June, less than a month after the Snowden leaks began, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Snowden with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information,” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.”

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A White House petition asking Obama to pardon Snowden received almost 170,000 signatures. In the government’s response to the petition, Lisa Monaco, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, said that Snowden “should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers—not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime.”

The subject of a pardon briefly flared up in the news again in early July when former Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that the benefits of Snowden’s actions had opened the door to a possible plea bargain. Snowden’s lawyer has consistently opposed the idea of his client pleading guilty to any of the government’s charges, but he praised Holder for being the first Cabinet-level official to acknowledge the benefits of the leaks.

The question of whether Snowden’s actions befitted a hero or a traitor has divided Americans along age as well as party lines. A January 2014 Pew Research Center/USA Today poll found that Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 were evenly split over whether the government should pursue its criminal case against Snowden, with 42 percent on both sides. In older age groups, the numbers skewed toward pursuing the case.

According to other Pew research, 57 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 thought that Snowden’s leaks had served the public interest, while 35 percent said they had harmed society. Most Americans aged 30 to 49 took the opposite stance, but by a much smaller margin, and Americans in older age groups mostly thought his leaks had harmed society.

The new Morning Consult poll surveyed 2,069 registered voters in late July and early August. Its margin of error was ± 2 percent.

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Photo via Mike Mozart/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Aug 12, 2015, 1:19 pm CDT