WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The percentage of U.S. parents who say they fear for their oldest child's safety at school has fallen to 27% after being elevated for more than a year following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Parents' concern jumped eight percentage points from 25% in August 2012 to 33% after the December massacre, and remained there in a poll conducted nearly a year after the shootings.
These data are based on Gallup's annual Work and Education poll, conducted Aug. 7-10.
The percentage of American parents who feared for their oldest child's physical safety in school peaked at 55% in 1999 after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. In the first decade of the 2000s, parents' fears waned overall, though they spiked accordingly with reports of school shootings. In 2008, parents' fear fell to an all-time low of 15%. This low level of worry was short-lived, however, because by 2009, it had climbed back to 26%, and remained at this level until late 2012.
Fears for children's safety have spiked after tragic events in schools, but the short-term increases in parents' concerns also appear to get smaller each time. After reaching 55% after the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, there was a spike to 45% after the 2001 Santana High School shootings in California. By 2006, safety fears increased to 35% after a shooting at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. And after an Alabama killing spree in homes and businesses that left 10 dead in 2009, 26% of parents feared for their children's safety.
Relatively Few Parents Say Their Children Have Expressed Fear to Them
While 26% of parents worry about the safety of their sons and daughters at school, a much smaller 8% report that their children have expressed worry to them about feeling unsafe at school. This gap between parents' and children's views has been evident each time Gallup has asked the questions. This figure, however, accounts only for children who have told their parents about their fears, and may not represent all children's feelings.
The percentage of parents who say their children have expressed fear to them about school safety has been quite stable over time, ranging narrowly between 8% and 12% since 2003.
At times, children have been more likely to express fear to their parents about feeling unsafe at school. In August 1999, roughly four months after Columbine, 18% of parents said they had heard such worries from their children, and in March 2001, after the Santana High School shootings, 22% said this.
Although the trauma of Sandy Hook clearly stuck with Americans in the following year, Americans have, overall, shown increasing resilience in their reactions to school shootings since Columbine, becoming less likely to have greater fear about their own child's safety. According to a CNN analysis, there had been 15 "Newtown-like" school shootings since Sandy Hook as of June 2014, although none has attracted as much attention as Newtown.
It is unclear whether the delayed decline in fear after Newtown is attributable to stepped-up security measures at schools, which could help allay parents' fears, or if it is mainly attributable to Newtown's being further in the past and thus less top-of-mind for parents.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 7-10, 2014, with a random sample of 221 parents with children in kindergarten through grade 12, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of parents, the margin of sampling error is ±9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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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