1984 Thirty Years On: 62% Think The Government Uses Our Personal Electronic Devices To Spy On Us

NEW YORK, April 4, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- This month is thirty years since the year immortalized in George Orwell's iconic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Global research company YouGov asked Americans their thoughts about the legacy of the novel.

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20140404/MN98058)

Inspired by Orwell's depiction of perpetual wars and the pervasive surveillance regime operating in the novel we asked Americans how they felt about war and government surveillance today.

  • On third (33%) agreed that: "The US Government is always at war as a way to keep people subdued and unequal with each other".
  • Two thirds (62%) agreed that "The US government uses our personal electronic devices, such as smartphones, computers and televisions, to track what we are doing and spy on us".
  • One third of Americans have heard the term thought-police and one quarter Newspeak.  

Thought Police

Many expressions coined by Orwell are now part of our common lexicon. Asked which words or phrases they had heard used or used themselves, the majority (63%) of Americans had heard or used the term Big Brother (made popular since the novel by the long-running TV show), one in three (34%) were aware of the term thought police and one in four (24%) of Newspeak.

In all, two-thirds of the American public is aware of at least one word or phrase popularized by Orwell. This is higher among men (75%), those aged 55 or over (80%) and those with a post-graduate education (85%). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans who had read 1984 were more aware of at least one words or phrase (89%).  91% of those who had seen the movie starring John Hurt and Richard Burton, and released in 1984, were aware of an Orwellian expression. 

Constant Surveillance and Perpetual War

In the novel a continual war plays out between three super states – Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. This perpetual war was deliberately maintained in order to keep the people of each nation subdued and to enforce a class system with few elites.

One in three (33%) Americans agreed with the following statement: "The US Government is always at war as a way to keep people subdued and unequal with each other".  Men are more likely to see this theme as something true in today's society (41% compared with 25% of women), as are those aged 18 to 34 (37% compared with 29% of those aged 55 or over).

Orwell talks of a society in which citizens' movements, actions and reactions are closely monitored using telescreens which have a view of most private spaces in a person's home and in public places. These are used to arrest and imprison anyone who acts against the regime.

Two in three (62%) agreed that "The US government uses our personal electronic devices, such as smartphones, computers and televisions, to track what we are doing and spy on us", in fact just one in eight (16%) disagreed leaving 22% of people who remained neutral.

Men are again more likely to agree (69% compared with 54% of women) but agreement remains level among different age groups and education levels.  Base: All US adults (1,113)

George Orwell

Awareness of Orwell remains high in the US. Indeed three in five (59%) people recognize the name of the writer. This rises to two in three (65%) men, three in four (73%) of those aged 55 or over and a huge 92% of those with a post-graduate education.

Orwell's personal politics were always left leaning despite being a strong critic of communism. He is widely described as a democratic socialist. Those aware of Orwell were asked which words or phrases they felt described his politics. Half (46%) did not know, but of those who gave an answer:

  • 43% state socialist,
  • 35% liberal
  • 29% democratic
  • 13% conservative
  • 12% communist

Nineteen-eighty four

Over half (54%) of adults in the US are aware of the novel. As with Orwell himself, awareness is higher among men (61% compared with 48% of women), those aged 55 or over (65%) and those educated to post-graduate levels (86%).

While inspired by title only, the television show Big Brother, in which house guests live together whilst their activities are constantly monitored on- cameras, is recognized by two in three (64%) Americans.

Fewer Americans have watched Big Brother than have read the Orwell novel with just under one in three (31%) Americans having watched the show.

Base: All US adults (1,113)

For further information and full survey tables:


Note on Methodology

Total sample size was 1113 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th – 31st March 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

About YouGov 

YouGov is an international full-service research and consulting company, which has pioneered the use of technology to collect higher quality, in-depth data for companies, governments, and institutions so that they can better serve the people that sustain them.   www.research.yougov.com


Jenny Hall


212 724 3040

Media Contact: Jenny Hall, YouGov, 212 724 3040, jenny.hall@yougov.com

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