WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a Dec. 11-13 USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted just two weeks before the thwarted Christmas Day bomb attempt aboard Northwest Airlines' Detroit-bound flight 253, 39% of Americans reported being very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism.
While similar to the 36% who said the same in June of this year, the percentage of Americans expressing worry over being a victim of terrorism is down significantly from the all-time high of 59% in October 2001, just after 9/11. After dropping to a low of 28% in January 2004, the number of Americans who are very or somewhat worried about being a victim of terrorism has fluctuated between 34% and 47% in the years since.
Friday's attempted attack thrust the Obama administration onto the media circuit, with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stating on CNN's State of the Union Sunday that "the system worked," although she quickly backtracked on that language the next day. On Monday, President Obama himself took to the airwaves telling Americans to "be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure." It is too early to tell if the recent incident will have any long-term impact on the Americans' perceptions of the president, but the public -- in a Nov. 20-22 USA Today/Gallup poll -- appeared to be split on Obama's handling of terrorism, with 45% approving and 47% disapproving. The percentage approving of Obama's handling the terror issue had dropped 10 points from the initial 55% Gallup reading in May -- mirroring the decline in Obama's overall approval rating from 61% to 49% over the same period.
In the grand scheme of issues facing the nation, Americans express relatively little concern over terrorism compared with their worries about the economy, unemployment, and healthcare. In Gallup's most recent update of its Most Important Problem trend question, 3% named terrorism as the most important problem facing the country. Twenty-six percent mentioned the economy in general terms, while unemployment and healthcare both came in at 16%.
Americans' worries about terrorism have been at a fairly moderate level prior to the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound airplane; whether or not the recent terrorism incident will affect those attitudes will become more evident in the weeks to come. Given that the incident has, apparently, sparked tightened security measures at airports and on airplanes, it will also be important to see if air travelers accept these new restrictions as warranted, or view them more as an increased burden or cost of traveling. President Obama spoke out about the incident and assured Americans that all possible precautions were being taken; Gallup tracking in the weeks ahead will also indicate whether or not there has been a possible impact on his standing in the eyes of the public.