Whistleblowing or leaking? Public opinion toward Assange, Manning, and Snowden

Michael R. Touchton, Casey A. Klofstad, Jonathan P. West, Joseph E. Uscinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The release of classified documents through outlets like WikiLeaks has transformed American politics by shedding light on the innerworkings of governments, parties, and corporations. The high-profile criminal cases associated with such releases – those of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden – have highlighted important questions about journalism, government secrecy, and the public’s “right to know.” Scholars have focused on the journalistic and legalistic implications but have yet to explore how the public views those who release classified materials, and what factors affect those views. Using data from the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we provide results from three embedded experiments testing the effects of two forms of framing on favorability ratings toward Assange, Manning, and Snowden. The first frame addresses partisanship (i.e., which party is injured by the release) and the second addresses how the action is framed (i.e., did the person “leak” or “blow the whistle”). The data show that both the party and leaking/whistleblowing frames significantly affect favorability in expected ways. The release of classified materials comes with both costs and benefits, but public opinion appears to be more sensitive to its implications for partisan competition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalResearch and Politics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Chelsea Manning
  • Edward Snowden
  • Julian Assange
  • Whistleblowing
  • framing
  • partisanship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Political Science and International Relations


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