Politics

Do Americans Want National ID Cards?

The question of how to prevent future terrorist attacks has been hotly debated for the last 10 months. Much of that debate centers around issues relating to personal privacy. How deeply should the federal government be permitted to delve into our personal lives in the interest of protecting national security?

The proposal to create a national identification card system, which would include a national database of all U.S. residents and require everyone to carry uniform ID cards, has been discussed extensively in Congress, both before and after Sept. 11. Recent Gallup polling* finds that a majority of Americans -- 54% -- support "a law requiring all adults in this country to carry a government-issued national identification card that includes information such as their fingerprints," but the substantial minority who oppose it -- 43% -- is indicative of the plan's potential for controversy.

The Bush administration has announced that it does not support national ID cards, and other detractors include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and many members of Congress from both parties. But there are also some high-profile advocates for national ID cards, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Speaking at the E-Gov conference in Washington, D.C., in June, Giuliani commented, "There's a trade-off that we have to make about what we perceive of as our privacy and protection of everyone else in society."

Immigrants, Minorities Even More Supportive of ID Cards

Major goals of a national ID card law would include deterring illegal immigration and making it more difficult for temporary U.S. residents to obtain other forms of identification, such as drivers' licenses. Interestingly, Gallup poll respondents who have immigrated to this country or are the children of immigrants are more slightly more likely to approve of a national ID card law than third-generation-or-longer Americans. Sixty percent of those with recent immigrant status would support such a law, compared to 53% of those whose families have been in the United States longer.

Minorities, especially Hispanics, are also more likely to support national ID cards. Sixty-five percent of Hispanics would support the law, compared to 57% of blacks and 53% of whites.

National ID Cards for Immigrants

Since immigration officials were embarrassed in March by the delivery of student visas for two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, there has been a great deal of discussion about how the government can better track non-U.S. citizens in the United States. Several of the hijackers were able to obtain drivers' licenses in Virginia and Florida, which they used as identification to board airplanes.

Gallup asked Americans about requiring national ID cards for immigrants who are not legal U.S. citizens**. Public support for national ID cards is much higher (83% favor and 15% oppose) if it is limited just to immigrants who are not legal citizens, than it is for all adults in the country (54%, 43%). Whites (87%) tend to be more supportive of the proposal than blacks (61%) or Hispanics (78%), but a majority of all these racial and ethnic groups favor it.

Key Points

Since Sept. 11, the momentum in Congress to enact a national ID card law has waned, according to an April Boston Globe article. But in May 2002, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced that the Bush administration is considering legislation that would set national standards for drivers' licenses -- an action that many privacy activists equate with a national ID card system. Regardless, a majority of Americans support the idea of requiring U.S. residents, and especially immigrants who are not citizens, to carry a form of national identification.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 667 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 3-9, 2002, including oversamples of blacks and Hispanics that are weighted to reflect their proportions in the general population. For results based on the total sample of adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4%.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 693 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 3-9, 2002, including oversamples of blacks and Hispanics that are weighted to reflect their proportions in the general population. For results based on the total sample of adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4%.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/6364/Americans-Want-National-Cards.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030