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Americans split on feds listening in

Half of Americans say Bush has the right to OK the secret program.

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Marilyn Acosta, a Boeing employee from Los Angeles, has a message for President Bush: "If he wants to listen in to my calls, it's OK. I'm all for it."

Not so fast, says Rosey Bystrak, who works for an architectural firm in San Diego. "Bush thinks he's a king and not a president, so it doesn't surprise me," she says, referring to the recent revelation that after 9/11, the president authorized the interception of communications between the US and other countries without a judge's approval.

These two women, speaking to a reporter in San Diego's Balboa Park, encompass the range of views on the issue and reflect the nearly even divide in public opinion found in the first survey that directly addresses the controversial program. The online Zogby Interactive poll, taken Dec. 20-21, found that nearly half of likely voters, 49 percent, say Bush has the constitutional powers to approve such a plan, while 45 percent say he does not.

The inclusion of the president in the question appears key, says John Zogby, the pollster. When Bush becomes part of the equation in polling, political polarization comes to the fore. "Since the president is at the core of the issue, we felt it legitimated the question by putting his name in there," Mr. Zogby says. In fact, he believes the Dec. 16 revelation of the National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping program contributed to Bush's bounce in the polls this month, particularly by bringing some wayward Republicans back to his side.

"When you put the president and 9/11 and the war on terror together with NSA eavesdropping, you get great support among Republicans," he says. "It has become a wedge issue."

Two in three say civil liberties are key

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