When asked how the government agency that handles airport security is doing, 54 percent said the TSA is doing either an excellent or a good job. Yet, when asked if the agency's screening procedures are extremely or very effective at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplanes, just 41 percent agreed. Most said the agency was somewhat or not effective.
The survey, conducted July 9-12, found little difference of opinion between fliers and those who haven't flown in the last year. If anything, more frequent fliers were slightly more positive about the TSA than those who haven't flown recently. Gallup said younger Americans were "significantly" more positive about the agency than seniors, a discrepancy it said may partly reflect the fact that 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have flown within the last year compared with 33 percent of those aged 65 and older.
Even though the TSA last year revised its screening policy for those under 12 years old after a series of videos of enhanced pat-downs of young travelers sparked public outrage, Gallup found adults without minor children and parents shared similar opinions of the agency.
They also will offer a counter-narrative to Republican critics like Rep. John Mica of Florida who never misses an opportunity to criticize the agency and has waged a crusade to privatize airport security.
"TSA employees work hard every day to protect the traveling public," an obviously pleased TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a statement. "This positive report reaffirms TSA's commitment to carrying out these responsibilities with efficiency, integrity and in a customer friendly manner."
Last year, another poll registered only 38 percent positive customer satisfaction. At the time, Pistole admitted to the Wall Street Journal that "there will continue to be incidents" but said improved training and a risk-based system based on common sense would bring down complaints.
Despite TSA's efforts to improve screening, abuses continue to be reported on an almost daily basis.
The watchdog blog TSA News, noting the poll was released the same day that two former TSA screeners in Atlanta were indicted for drug smuggling, was skeptical.
"Anecdotal evidence, eyewitness testimony, and comments on published TSA stories would predict that the answer to this would have been overwhelmingly negative," it wrote, adding that "Gallup didn’t disclose who sponsored the poll or if the TSA or one of its vendors had any input on it. As we all know by now, pollsters can get any result they want by controlling the way questions are asked and the group that is polled."
But Gallup managing editor Jeff Jones rejected the inference that the poll was skewed.
"No one sponsored it. Gallup paid for it," he told The Huffington Post in an interview. "This was completely done by Gallup poll editors. We had no contact with TSA at all."
Jones said the TSA questions were part of a larger survey that also asked about smoking and drinking habits and used Gallup's "standard methodology."
"This is a representative sample of Americans," he said.