April 23, 2009

Public Remains Divided Over Use of Torture

Overview

Amid intense debate over the use of torture against suspected terrorists, public opinion about this issue remains fairly stable. Currently, nearly half say the use of torture under such circumstances is often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified; about the same proportion believes that the torture of suspected terrorists is rarely (22%) or never (25%) justified.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted April 14-21 among 742 adults interviewed in English and Spanish on landlines and cell phones, finds little change in opinions about the use of torture against suspected terrorists.

There are continuing partisan differences over the use of torture under these circumstances. Comparable percentages of Republicans (15%) and Democrats (12%) believe that the torture of suspected terrorists to gain important information is often justified, but twice as many Republicans as Democrats say torture is sometimes justified (49% vs. 24%). Similarly, while nearly identical percentages of Republicans and Democrats say torture under these circumstances is rarely justified, 38% of Democrats believe the torture of suspected terrorists is never justified, compared with 14% of Republicans.

A majority of independents (54%) believe that the use of torture against suspected terrorists is often (19%) or sometimes (35%) justified. That is up somewhat from February, when 44% of independents said torture was at least sometimes justified.

As in the past, there are only modest demographic differences in attitudes about the use of torture against suspected terrorists. Roughly half of men (51%) and women (47%) believe that the use of torture is at least sometimes justified. Similarly, age and educational differences in these opinions are relatively small; however, a greater percentage of those 65 and older (33%) than those younger than 65 (23%) say torture should never be used.