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Public still divided on Apple's encryption stance

A man walks outside the Apple store on the Fifth Avenue in New York on February 17, 2016.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images
A man walks outside the Apple store on the Fifth Avenue in New York on February 17, 2016.

Neither the FBI nor Apple are clear winners in the court of public opinion in their battle over an encrypted iPhone used by a shooter in San Bernardino terrorist attacks.

Data released Monday indicated that 51 percent of adults surveyed think Apple should unlock the iPhone to assist the ongoing FBI investigation, compared with 38 percent who agree with Apple's defense of encryption, according to nonpartisan think tank Pew Research Center.

In a separate survey Tuesday, analysts at Piper Jaffray found that most respondents view Apple more favorably for taking a stand. Indeed, of those familiar with the FBI's argument, 24.1 percent now view Apple's brand more favorably, compared with 23 percent who view it less favorably.

"Net-net the data showed that there was no brand impact from Apple's decision to refuse to unlock an encrypted iPhone with essentially equal numbers of consumers viewing the brand more positively and less positively with the rest viewing it the same or unaware of the situation," Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster and Douglas Clinton wrote.

Both surveyed 1,002 consumers over a similar time period. Piper Jaffray's survey was done online, while Pew's was conducted by phone. Pew weighted the results to reflect Census data on phone service, race and gender, with a margin of error of about 3.7 percentage points. Piper Jaffray did not list a margin of error.

CNBC's nonscientific poll of 17,341 respondents showed 58 percent of respondents supported Apple and 42 percent supporting the government.

The Pew survey also found that half of those who own a smartphone say Apple should unlock the iPhone, compared with 41 percent who say it should not. Among people who do not own a smartphone, 52 percent said Apple should unlock the phone to 33 percent who say Apple should not. IPhone owners were about evenly divided, Pew said.

Disclosure: Piper Jaffray was making a market in the securities of Apple at the time this research report was published. Piper Jaffray will buy and sell Apple securities on a principal basis.