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Impact of the Attacks on America



Key Point Summary

  • The attack had the immediate effect of raising Americans' fear of terrorism striking their own lives. That heightened concern continues to be evident, although it has diminished in the last several weeks.
  • Although fear of terrorism is heightened, particularly compared to a year ago, it is still restrained. Less than one-third of Americans say that they are highly concerned about terrorism or that they feel much less safe in their communities than they did before Sept. 11.
  • Many Americans believe that future terrorist attacks are likely to occur, although the number has declined since the attacks.
  • Americans are strongly supportive of increased security measures at airports and public buildings.
  • Americans do not universally support increased restrictions on civil liberties, such as allowing authorities to monitor mail or telephone calls.
  • American support for government leaders shows a major rally effect after the terrorist attacks, and ratings of all government leaders remain high.
  • The public expresses high levels of support for other government agencies and the government's ability to deal with the situation.


Concern About Terrorism Starting to Drop, But Remains High

The attacks had the immediate effect of raising Americans' fear of terrorism striking their own lives. That heightened concern continues to be evident in Gallup's latest survey, although it has diminished in the days following the attacks. On the evening of Sept. 11, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found 23% of Americans "very worried" that they or someone in their family would become a victim of a terrorist attack, while 35% were "somewhat worried" -- for a total of 58% feeling fairly worried. Another 24% said they were "not too worried," and 16% were not worried at all. In a subsequent Gallup survey, completed Sept. 14-15, the total percent worried dropped to 51%. As of Sept. 21-22, it had dropped further still to 49%. This includes 14% who are very worried and 35% who are somewhat worried. When Gallup asked this question in April 2000, only 24% of Americans were worried about being victimized by terrorism, including only 4% who were very worried.

Belief that future attacks will occur is also declining over time. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows 22% of Americans say further terrorist attacks are "very likely" over the next several weeks. Several polls conducted in the week following the attack showed that about four in 10 Americans believed future attacks were very likely. The latest Newsweek poll -- conducted Sept. 27-28 -- shows a 10-point drop in the percentage of Americans who think "more terrorist attacks against major cities" are "very likely," compared to a poll conducted two weeks ago. Similarly, CBS News/New York Times polls have shown an 11-point decline in the percentage of Americans who are personally concerned about a terrorist attack in their area, from 43% on Sept. 11 to 32% in a Sept. 20-23 poll.

Most Americans are More Supportive of Increased Security Measures

A majority of Americans in several polls say they are willing to tolerate some inconvenience or even surrender some of their civil liberties, especially when it comes to air travel. In a Sept. 14-15 poll, CNN/USA Today/Gallup finds 86% of the public in support of new security procedures at airports that would require passengers to check in two to three hours prior to their flights. Seventy-two percent favor restriction on air travel such as "no curb-side check in, arrival at airport two or more hours before the flight, and no knives, scissors or other sharp instruments allowed on the plane," according to the Sept. 27-28 Newsweek poll. The Gallup poll shows that a slight majority even favors banning all carry-on luggage, including purses, computers and briefcases, but 47% oppose this. Outside of air travel, 86% support the use of metal detectors in office buildings and public places, and 77% favor requiring all people visiting such places to show identification before they enter.

However, Americans are not willing to accept all limits on their personal liberties to help prevent terrorism. Only 33% favor making it easier for legal authorities to read mail or e-mail, or tap phones without a person's knowledge, and just 29% support allowing police to stop people at random on the street to search their possessions, according to Gallup. Additionally, a Sept. 14-17 Pew Research Center poll shows just 40% favor, and 55% oppose, allowing the government to monitor people's credit card purchases.

Ratings of Political Leaders Ascend to New Levels Following Attacks

American support for government leaders has surged in response to the terrorist attacks, according to several polls, including three CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls -- one conducted Sept. 11, the second Sept. 14-15, and the most recent Sept. 21-22. President Bush's current approval rating from the Sept. 21-22 Gallup poll is 90%, up from 51% immediately before the attacks. The jump in President Bush's approval rating shows the largest "rally effect" ever recorded by Gallup, and the highest rating received by any president. Several other polls show roughly 90% approval ratings of Bush's handling of the terrorist situation. About seven in 10 also say that Bush's military, economic and diplomatic responses to date have been "about right." Eighty-three percent in the Sept. 20-23 CBS News/New York Times poll say that Bush has strong qualities of leadership, up from 54% in June of this year.

But the surge in positive feelings is not limited to the president. The public expresses a record high level of approval for Congress, and high levels of confidence in other government leaders and agencies as well. This general rally phenomenon is also found in public sentiment about the economy and about the way things are going in the country as a whole.

For example, the CNN/Time poll shows public approval of Congress at 75% -- the highest level of approval for that institution ever measured. Going back to 1974, Gallup's measure on approval of Congress reached a high of 57% in February 1998. In April of this year, approval of Congress was at 55%, but it was down to 42% a few days before the terrorist attacks occurred.

The Sept. 14-15 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found 92% of Americans approve of the way New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has handled the situation in New York. More than eight in 10, in a Sept. 19-24 Harris poll, give positive ratings to the jobs Bush, Giuliani, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Congress, and New York Governor George Pataki have done since the attacks.

Almost nine in 10 Americans have confidence in the U.S. government's ability to protect its citizens from future attacks: 41% express "a great deal" of confidence, while another 47% say "a fair amount." These results are similar to the confidence Americans have about catching the terrorists. According to the CBS News/New York Times poll on Sept. 20-23, 56% of Americans say they are "very" confident that the U.S. government will be able to catch the terrorists, and another 36% say "somewhat" confident.

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