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17 August 2012

Recent positive TSA survey may be misleading

Earlier this month, the polling organization Gallup released the results of a random survey of US adults from July 2012 that concluded Americans' views of TSA were more positive than negative. Specifically, 54% of those surveyed thought that the organization was doing a good or excellent job.

Would these results be a surprise to most travelers?
The TSA certainly welcomed this result, featuring a link to the Gallup survey on their home page. While this was certainly good news to TSA management, it may come as a surprise to passengers who have to experience the TSA's procedures on a regular basis.

Most surveyed were not frequent flyers
The positive results could have been a result of who was polled. According to Gallup, only about 12% of those surveyed had flown on a commercial airline flight five or more times in the previous year, and 48% had not flown on a commercial airliner at all in the previous year.

Could the questions have been different?
While there is no reason to doubt the results, one has to wonder what the response would have been to a different set of questions. For example, the survey asked for opinions about the TSA as a whole, and not about the behavior, quality, or performance of the TSA security officers who screen passengers.

Not clear who paid for the poll
Another unknown is who sponsored the survey. Gallup did not state if the survey was paid for by an outside organization or by Gallup. If it were funded by an organization that would benefit from a positive perception of TSA, that would not make the poll invalid, but it could explain why the poll results were released to the public.

Poll results may be out of context
Perhaps the biggest reasons to question the usefulness of the results is that the results were not put in a context of how those perceptions may have changed over time, or more importantly how those results compare with those of comparable organizations.

Since the TSA was established in the wake of 9/11, the public's perception of the organization has gone up and down. The positive results that were reported in the recent Gallup poll would be much more useful to the public if they could be compared with earlier results from similar poll questions. While it is possible that Gallup or the organization that paid for this recent poll may have this kind of comparative data, none were offered in Gallup's report.

Police viewed much more positively than TSA
TSA is not a law enforcement agency, and TSA screeners do not have the power to arrest anyone or use deadly force, it may be quite fair to compare the public's view of police and the TSA. This is especially true because of the steps that TSA has taken to have uniforms that look very much like police uniforms.

In October 2005, Gallup conducted a national poll that revealed that confidence in local police had dropped to a 10-year low, with 53% of those surveyed having either "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the ability of police to protect them from violent crime. In 2011, this figure was 56%.

Police viewed more positively than TSA
While the two polls did not ask the same questions, it may be quite fair to use the TSA and police polls to compare the public's perception of the ability of the police and the TSA to accomplish their core missions. One could conclude that while the public's perception of the TSA in 2012 is good, police had a better public perception in 2011 and in every year from 1996 to 2005.


  1. Don't leave or forget any valuables in your bag TSA has a lot of thieves working for them. When you report it there management they do nothing about it

  2. Don't leave or forget any valuables in your bag TSA has a lot of thieves working for them. When you report it there management they do nothing about it

  3. I have dealt many a time with consultants to run surveys for the Company I worked for, and I know how questionnaires are built, under the advice of the consutant of course, but the customer decides, just as for the populations surveyed. So, not doubting one moment of the perfect honesty and professionalism of the Consultant and the Customer, I have my doubts about the results of this survey, precisely because of the population sampled and because the sponsor of the poll is not identified.

  4. It’s difficult to get knowledgeable people today on this subject, but you sound like you know what you are talking about. Thanks for this informative post.
    Survey Polls