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With the recent release of the Oliver Stone biopic “Snowden,” the debate over whether the NSA whistleblower’s actions were heroic or heinous have been reinvigorated. I’ve written favorably about Edward Snowden many times since his mass surveillance revelations in 2013.

I’m a fan.

But I have noticed a significant generation gap over the last three years in how Snowden is perceived.

Related: If Edward Snowden isn’t a whistleblower, there’s no such thing

When I see the words “hero” or “patriot” on a Facebook comment thread or on Twitter as a description of Snowden, more often than not it is from someone young. When I see “traitor” or “treason”, it is typically from someone middle-aged or older.


The polling on Snowden appears to confirm my observations. Pew Research Center reported in 2014, “Young adults are significantly more supportive than their elders of Edward Snowden and his leaks of classified details of the National Security Agency’s telephone and Internet surveillance programs, a new Pew Research Center/USA TODAY survey finds.”

According to the survey, “57% of 18- to 29-year olds said the leaks have served rather than harmed the public interest — almost exact mirrors of the 65-and-over age group.”

If you care about limiting government size and power—which naturally requires a healthy distrust of the state—all of this is good news, as millennials will soon become the largest voting bloc.

Younger Americans seem to have less faith in the existing system, and that wariness leads them to see someone like Edward Snowden—who exposed the government’s blatant lie that they were not spying on citizens en masse—as a truth-telling hero.

The Cold War and Vietnam generations are also far more inclined to respect authority, particularly military and intelligence officials. If a serious looking official, particularly in uniform, says Edward Snowden is a bad dude, the older American is probably far more likely to accept this at face value than their kids. The same basic corruption most conservatives know happens within every other government branch and institution, they also, however contradictory, are more inclined to think this is something to which security branches are immune. Younger people don’t make those distinctions in their critique of the government because they’re not as emotionally or politically attached to those parts. They suspect it all.

There is a reason so many 1980s Cold War action movies involving national security issues featured stern military men walking down long halls in secret underground bunkers to a soundtrack of drum-heavy marching music. That emotional appeal worked. Don’t think some, particularly men, who want to “Make America Great Again” don’t envision precisely those types of scenes as part of restoring national greatness.

These generational differences over Snowden correlate with other polling that shows Millennials are also significantly less partisan than their parents or grandparents. Older Americans, particularly conservatives who don’t like Snowden, might not be happy with the status quo but are far more likely to see the solution as simply getting rid of the Democratic-regime. Many don’t see big government as the problem per se, but Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump being in charge of it as the problem.

It’s worth noting, 70-year-old Trump wants to execute Snowden. 69-year-old Clinton isn’t a fan, either. Snowden has said that government workers would be prosecuted if they mishandled classified info the way Clinton did.

Both candidates haven’t polled well with millennials in this election.

Related: MLK proved Edward Snowden right

Most Americans are glad to know that the U.S. government gathers everyone’s private data regardless of how they feel about Snowden. Most also oppose it.

I wrote Monday, “If you believe Snowden shouldn’t have done what he did, you’re also essentially saying we should trust our government, no matter the abuse. […] You’re saying it would be better to still be in the dark about these NSA practices.”

More than their elders, young people have fewer qualms about appreciating the man who shined a light on our government’s nefarious deeds.

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