If Polls Ruled: Guantanamo Forever?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series If Polls Ruled
A US Army guard checks on detainees at Guantanamo prison camp

A US Army guard checks on detainees at the Guantanamo prison camp. (Photo by Navy Petty Officer Michael Billings, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.)

In his State of the Union address, Obama reiterated his determination to close forever the Guantanamo Bay prison. If public opinion ruled, would we see the detention center finally closed?

Over a decade ago, the detention center was established at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station to hold and interrogate military prisoners considered to be especially dangerous. Over the years, it proved to be of dubious value for military intelligence, a venue for prisoner mistreatment, a terrorist propaganda and recruitment platform, and expensive.

Do Americans support Obama’s pledge to close the GTMO prison?

Public opinion is not on the president’s side. In four surveys since 2007, Gallup consistently found that the majority of Americans do not want the prison closed.

But Gallup asked this question in a complicated way, committing what survey researchers call a double-barreled question: essentially, one question that actually includes two questions but allows for only one answer.

Here’s the item: “As you may know, since 2001, the United States has held people from other countries who are suspected of being terrorists in a prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Do you think the United States should—or should not—close this prison and move some of the prisoners to U.S. prisons?”

Public opinion has been pretty steady on this issue. In 2014, 66% of Americans said we should not close the prison, while 29% said that we should. But we don’t know from these answers if the majority of Americans want the prison to remain open no matter what, or they want it to remain open because they don’t want the prisoners on American soil.

It seems to be the latter. In a 2009 Gallup poll, the question was asked about closing the prison but without any elaboration of what would happen to the prisoners. Forty-five said the prison should be closed, with 35% saying it should not.

Do you think the Guantanamo Bay detention center should be closed?
Should public opinion decide the matter?

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