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Do Americans think Apple should unlock terrorist's iPhone?

REUTERS/Toru Hanai

While the dispute between Apple and the U.S. Department of Justice rages on over the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, a new survey finds that more people are taking the government's side.

According to a national Pew Research Center poll, 51 percent of Americans surveyed said that Apple should unlock the phone to assist with the FBI's investigation.

Thirty-eight percent said Apple should not unlock the phone, in order to ensure the security of other users' information. Apple has warned that creating "backdoor" access to the encrypted iPhone data could potentially leave other users' iPhones vulnerable to government surveillance or hackers. The remaining 11 percent said they didn't know.

For the poll, Pew surveyed 1,002 adults between February 18 and 21. The news surrounding the dispute has spread widely, with 75 percent of people surveyed saying they had heard either a lot (39 percent) or at least a little bit (36 percent) about the story.

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The poll also looked at how the dispute between the FBI and Apple broke down along political party lines. Perhaps surprisingly in these partisan times, both Republicans and Democrats viewed the dispute similarly -- 56 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats said that Apple should unlock the suspected terrorist's phone.

Those who don't fall within the traditional parties were more conflicted. Pew found that 45 percent of people who considered themselves Independents said Apple should unlock the phone, while about 42 percent of Independents said it should not, with 13 percent undecided.

Things get a little more complicated when you break down Independents into sub-categories -- 58 percent of those who lean toward the Republican end of things said that Apple should unlock the phone, compared to 34 percent of the more Democrat-leaning Independents.

The dispute drew sharp distinctions between age groups. Among younger adults aged 18 to 29, 47 percent said Apple should unlock the phone, while 43 percent said it should not. For those 65 and older, 54 percent felt Apple should unlock the phone, while a mere 27 percent said the company should not comply.

What about those who are smartphone owners? Do they feel differently about creating a backdoor that could unlock phones and access data? Half of respondents who said they own a smartphone believe that Apple should unlock the iPhone -- but so do 52 percent of non-smartphone owners. The difference was in their level of opposition: 41 percent of smartphone owners said Apple should not cooperate, while just 33 percent of non-smartphone owners supported the company's position.

Actual iPhone users were split down the middle, with slightly more -- 47 percent -- saying Apple should unlock the phone, and 43 percent saying it should not.

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    Brian Mastroianni covers science and technology for CBSNews.com