Reuters released Wednesday the results of a poll that found more people—just less than half—supported Apple in its decision to fight a government order to create a backdoor in iOS. Those results contrast sharply to a Pew poll released earlier in the week that found a majority of people wanted Apple to do the government's bidding. The differences in those results come down in part to the way the questions were phrased.
First off, let's look at the Reuters/Ipsos survey results, which shows that 46 percent of people agreed with Apple's decision to fight the court order. 35 percent disagreed. The poll broke down results by political affiliation, just 37 percent of Republicans agreeing with Apple, while 45 percent disagreed. For those identifying as Democrats, 45 percent agreed with Apple, while 35 percent did not.
An interactive graph from Reuters:
What Are Words For?
When it comes to polling, words matter, and in this case how Reuters/Ipsos asked the question is important. From the poll question, which were published as a PDF:
Apple is opposing a court order to unlock a smart phone that was used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack. 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?
That question is biased a little in Apple's favor—Reuters itself pointed out that Pew included the (unsupported) FBI claim that the data on the iPhone in question was "an important part" of its investigation, while Reuters did not. On the other hand, Pew's question was heavily skewed towards the FBI by asking:
In response to court order tied to ongoing FBI investigation of San Bernardino attacks, Apple should/should not unlock iPhone.
When asked that way, it's no surprise that Pew found 51 percent of respondents thought Apple should unlock the phone. The only problem(s) with that is:
A.) Apple can't unlock the iPhone.
B.) Apple isn't being ordered to unlock the iPhone, it's being ordered to create a backdoor to allow the FBI to brute force attack its way into the iPhone.
Reuters's question is far more accurate, and that accuracy led to results that show more people support Apple than don't. It's not a clear majority, but it's a gratifying sign of progress in public opinion in this important issue.
In a related note, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a passionate interview to ABC on Wednesday where he made the case for why it is important that Apple not create any back doors into iOS. We posted that interview in full.