A large national poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University found most Americans believe former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is a "whistle-blower" rather than a "traitor."
The poll, which surveyed 2,014 respondents June 28-July 8, found 55 percent of Americans think of Snowden as a whistle-blower, and just 34 percent say he is a traitor.
Respondents between the ages of 19 and 29 were most likely to say he's a whistle-blower, with 68 percent of that group saying so.
African-American respondents were the only demographic group with a plurality saying he's a "traitor." Of black respondents, 43 percent said Snowden is a traitor, 42 percent said whistle-blower and 14 percent didn't answer the question.
"On almost all issues African-American voters tend to take the same position that the president has," Peter Brown, Quinnipiac's assistant polling director, said at a National Press Club event Wednesday. "It's not just race, it's party," he added.
Republicans, at 55 percent, and independent voters, at 58 percent, were more likely to say Snowden is a whistle-blower. Among Democrats, just 49 percent chose that option.
Majorities of men, women, white Americans and Hispanics said Snowden is a whistle-blower.
The public's choice of the "fairly benign" term whistle-blower stands in stark contrast to the bipartisan accusations of treason against Snowden, Brown said.
Denunciations of Snowden are common, and open expressions of support rare, among American political leaders from both parties since his bombshell revelations about domestic surveillance in June.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, denounced Snowden as a "traitor," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, accused him of committing "treason," and House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., described him as a criminal.
"They all agree Snowden is a traitor or some variation thereof," Brown observed.
Brown also said the poll uncovered a "huge shift" in public opinion about civil liberties. A plurality of respondents - 45 percent - said the government's anti-terrorism policies had gone too far in restricting the average person's civil liberties, rather than not going far enough, a position with 40 percent support.
A January 2010 poll by Quinnipiac asked the same question and found at the time just 25 percent of the public thought the government had gone too far.
"These kinds of shifts in public opinion are not common," Brown said, suggesting that Snowden's leaks may have undermined the public's faith in the government to protect civil liberties.
"Some of the largest growth in those concerned about the threat to civil liberties is among men and Republicans, groups historically more likely to be supportive of governmental anti-terrorism efforts," Quinnipiac noted in a statement accompanying the results.
The poll found somewhat confounding results on support for the NSA collection of the phone records of Americans. A majority said they support the specific program (51 percent), while 54 percent said the program is "necessary to keep Americans safe." At the same time, 53 percent said the program is "too much intrusion into Americans' personal privacy."