What Americans Think About Torture

PHOTO: The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, July 9, 2014.Getty Images
The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, July 9, 2014.

Most Americans oppose torture, but that view is short of monolithic -- and opposition softens if it’s presumed actually to work.

This has been the case for years: Ask people if they support or oppose the use of torture, a straight up or down question, and majorities oppose it.

But ask it with gradations and opposition is lower. And attach a direct positive attribute – possibly saving lives, or even definitely saving them – and opposition goes lower still.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll from 2009 showed some risk in pursuing torture investigations, if they’re perceived as partisan. Fifty-four percent opposed an Obama administration investigation into Bush-era treatment of terrorism suspects, with very sharply partisan divisions.

Other, more recent polling indicates that attitudes on the issue have held steady. An Associated Press-NORC poll from August 2013 showed that just 25 percent of Americans said torture against suspected terrorists “can never be justified.”

In all, 50 percent said "sometimes or often," 22 percent said "rarely" and another 25 percent said "never."

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