Poll: Most US, UK Adults Know Nothing About Files That Assange Is Charged With Publishing
Most American and British adults do not know anything about the documents that the United States government is prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing, according to a poll by Morning Consult.
Both populations are apathetic or unaware when it comes to whether Assange should be extradited and face a US trial. In fact, nearly half of US adults polled said they had “never heard” of Assange.
The lack of awareness of Assange and the case against him is likely why only a minority in the US and United Kingdom support the prosecution.
Meanwhile, in Australia, almost half of adults said Assange “should not be extradited from the UK to the US, and he should be released from jail.” That reflects how the case has become a significant political issue in the country during the past year.
The US Justice Department charged Assange with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act. Each Espionage Act charge stems from the publication of documents, which WikiLeaks obtained from US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning in 2010.
Assange has been jailed at Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh since April 11, 2019, when the Ecuador government revoked his political asylum and allowed the British police to enter their London embassy and arrest him.
UK Home Secretary Priti Pratel approved Assange’s extradition in June, but Assange’s legal team immediately filed two separate appeals in the UK High Court of Justice.
The Espionage Act charges criminalize the publication of the Afghanistan War Logs, Iraq War Logs, and US Embassy cables, as well as the Guantánamo Files and Iraq rules of engagement documents.
Morning Consult conducted surveys in the United Kingdom (August 5-6, 2022), United States (September 7-9, 2022), and in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain (August 16-17, 2022). They sampled at least 1,000 adults in each country.
In the US, 55 percent of adults said they had never seen, read, or heard anything about the Afghanistan War Logs. Fifty-four percent said they they had never seen, read, or heard anything about the Iraq War Logs.
Fifty-seven percent of US adults said they had never seen, read, or heard anything about the US Embassy cables.
UK adults appear to have even less knowledge of the publications, though more have heard of Assange.
Fifty-seven percent of UK adults said they had never seen, read, or heard anything about the Afghanistan War Logs. Fifty-six percent said they had never seen, read, or heard anything about the Iraq War Logs. Sixty-three percent said they had never seen, read, or heard anything about the US Embassy cables.
The results were very similar in Australia: 53 percent said they had not seen, read, or heard anything about the Afghanistan War Logs, 54 percent said they had not seen, read, or heard anything about the Iraq War Logs, and 56 percent said they had not seen, read, or heard anything about the US Embassy cables.
A majority (52 percent) of Australians polled agreed that Assange was “right to make the public aware about US government policies and actions, such as surveillance of American citizens.” (Bizarrely, that’s not really what the war logs or diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks published revealed.)
Half of Australian adults polled said Assange would not receive a fair trial in the United States.
Contrast that with results in the US and UK: 28 percent of US adults said Assange would not receive a fair trial in their country, and 36 percent of UK adults said Assange would not receive a fair trial.
Only 38 percent of UK adults said Assange was “right to make the public aware” of information about the US government while 42 percent of US adults said Assange was “right to make the public aware” of information about their government.
Forty percent of US adults said Assange “should be extradited from the UK to face trial for publishing secret US government documents,” which is troubling for those who care about press freedom. But just as worrisome is the fact that about the same percentage indicated they did not know about the case or had no opinion.
In the UK, where the government recently approved the extradition of Assange, a staggering 44 percent of respondents said they didn’t know about the case or had no opinion about whether the WikiLeaks founder should be extradited.
Morning Consult asked respondents whether they could recall anything about WikiLeaks’ publication of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails, CIA hacking materials (“Vault 7”), and NSA files on spying against French presidents. But the charges against Assange do not cover those publications.
While the US did charge Assange for publishing the Guantánamo Files, the polling firm did not ask respondents about those documents.
Respondents were also asked about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Although Assange is being criminalized for engaging in source protection by helping Snowden flee Hong Kong, how one views Snowden is largely irrelevant to the Assange case.
Overall, the poll results illustrate the extent to which the Western news media has shaped views of Assange and WikiLeaks.
Western news media has been hyper-fixated on the publication of Clinton campaign emails, despite the fact that the files were much less consequential than documents that exposed the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars as well as the lengths that US diplomats will go to advance US foreign policy.
Press freedom advocates may be relieved that in the US, UK, and Europe there is only minority support for prosecuting Assange. However, the apathy and lack of awareness of this unprecedented political case has probably done more to aid than hinder the US and UK government in their efforts to secure extradition and bring a publisher to trial.