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U.S. Fear of Terrorism Steady After Foiled Christmas Attack

U.S. Fear of Terrorism Steady After Foiled Christmas Attack

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup polls bracketing the 2009 Christmas Day terror incident -- in which a Nigerian man attempted to explode a bomb hidden under his clothes on a Northwest Airlines flight -- document little change in U.S. public concern about being victimized by terrorism.

Americans' Worry About Being Victimized by Terrorism -- Recent Trend

Just prior to the incident, a Dec. 11-13 Gallup survey found 39% of Americans either "very" or "somewhat" worried that they or a family member could be a victim of terrorism. In the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Jan. 8-10, 42% are worried. Across the same period, the percentage saying they are "not worried at all" did fall slightly, from 28% to 22%.

Americans' current level of anxiety about terrorism is close to the average seen on this Gallup measure since Sept. 11, 2001 (which is 41%). Since then, the highest recorded percentage saying they were very or somewhat worried was 59% in early October 2001 and the lowest was 28% in January 2004 (a few weeks after Saddam Hussein was captured in Iraq).

Americans' Worry About Being Victimized by Terrorism -- Trend Since 9/11

Anti-Terror Steps Get Mixed Reviews

After his receipt of an intelligence report detailing failures that led to the Northwest Airlines incident, President Obama stated in a Jan. 7 speech that the U.S. is at war, and outlined several new anti-terrorism directives.

Four in 10 Americans (42%) believe Obama's prescriptions for preventing terrorism in the wake of the Christmas Day terror incident fall short of what is needed, but nearly as many (38%) say these measures are about right, and 4% say they go too far.

Public's Review of New Anti-Terror Measures Announced by President Obama

No partisan group, including Democrats, is widely satisfied with the new actions being proposed. Among the three major groups, the percentage saying the measures are about right ranges from 50% among Democrats to 35% among independents and 27% among Republicans. Substantial segments of all three groups (including a majority of Republicans) think the measures don't go far enough.

Review of President Obama's New Anti-Terror Measures -- by Party ID

Americans and, in particular, Democrats, are more supportive of Obama on the broader issue of terrorism. In contrast to the 38% who say Obama's new anti-terrorism policies are about right, 49% of Americans in the same poll -- including 73% of Democrats -- approve of Obama's overall handling of terrorism.

When thinking longer term about U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, Americans offer a fairly positive review of the strides the country has made since 9/11. Twenty-one percent say the government has made a great deal of progress in protecting Americans from acts of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks and 53% say it has made a fair amount of progress. Far fewer -- a combined 26% -- say there has not been much progress (22%) or no progress at all (4%).

Assessment of Progress Since 9/11 in Preventing Terror Attacks

Bottom Line

Although the Christmas Day bomber failed to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253, his attempt represented a clear act of terrorism against the United States nearly a decade after 9/11. Nevertheless, the level of public fear of terrorism today remains about average for the post-9/11 period, and close to where it stood in mid-December. Additionally, Americans are generally positive about the long-term progress the government has made on protecting the country from terrorism.

Among the more visible anti-terrorism measures Obama ordered in his Jan. 7 speech is funding for body scanners for screening airline passengers. While most Americans favor using this technology at airports, far fewer -- 38% -- believe the entire set of new initiatives is sufficient to protect Americans.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,023 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 8-10, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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