Mona Chalabi has a great critique of the resent YouGov waterboarding poll:
And the less basic and more outlandish a hypothetical question is, the less reliable it can be. Hardly anyone has any experience with waterboarding – doing it, seeing it or even being near it. It’s a safe bet that virtually everyone who answered the YouGov survey based their responses on an imaginary decision-making context — with imaginary suspected terrorists and imaginary feelings toward them.
I believe that this social desirability bias, as it drives this pool, is enhanced by the depolitzation of torture in last decade. The further away we get from the Abu Ghraib leaks and the more we get used to torture as a status quo, the more people we be cool with saying they would be willing to torture another person.