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American Public Opinion About Terrorism

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

by Joseph Carroll

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people.

Fear of Terrorism

A poll conducted April 21-23, 1995, a few days after the Oklahoma City bombing, found 42% of Americans saying they were very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their families would become victims of similar attacks. One year later, 35% said they were worried, and five years after the bombing, in April 2000, just 24% said they were worried.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks raised the public's concern about terrorism. A poll conducted on the night of the attacks found 58% of Americans saying they were very or somewhat worried about becoming victims of terrorism. Across surveys conducted throughout the rest of 2001, this percentage averaged 47%. Over the next several years, from 2002 through this year, fewer than 4 in 10 Americans, on average, have expressed concern about terrorism. The most recent reading, from January 2005, finds 38% of Americans saying they are very or somewhat concerned about becoming victims of terrorism.

Expectations of Terrorist Attacks

Immediately following the Oklahoma City bombing, nearly 9 in 10 Americans said it was very (47%) or somewhat (42%) likely that bombings or similar acts of violence would occur elsewhere in the United States in the near future. Only 8% said this was not likely to occur.

Perhaps because of the magnitude of the Sept. 11 attacks, expectations of a similar attack occurring have been lower. In mid-September 2001, 66% thought another attack was likely. After the United States began military action in Afghanistan, the percentage thinking another attack was likely jumped 83% in early October and reached 85% in late October.

That percentage has gradually declined since then, but typically a majority of Americans have believed terrorist acts in the United States are likely to occur in the near future. The most recent reading, from Jan. 7-9, found just 39% of Americans saying terrorist acts were either very (8%) or somewhat (31%) likely to occur, the lowest percentage saying an attack is likely to occur since Gallup first asked the question in 2001.

Americans' Reactions to the Oklahoma City Bombing

After the bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995, Gallup conducted a reaction poll on April 20 to gauge Americans' opinions about the attack.

  • One in six Americans (16%) said they personally felt a sense of danger from terrorist acts where they live or work, while 84% did not.
  • Seventeen percent of workers said their workplace is "the kind of place that could be a target of a terrorist attack," while 82% said it is probably not a place that terrorists would attack.
  • Eighty-eight percent of Americans said they had a great deal (58%) or moderate amount (30%) of confidence in federal law enforcement agencies to catch those responsible for the attack.
  • Americans were divided as to whether the government could take actions to prevent future terrorist attacks in the country (45%), or if it is impossible to prevent future attacks (46%).

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