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Terrorism Fades as Nation's Most Important Problem

Terrorism Fades as Nation's Most Important Problem

Two-thirds say United States and its allies are winning war against terrorism

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The latest Gallup poll confirms that terrorism is no longer nearly as salient in the minds of the public as it was in the first month or two after Sept. 11. Just a little more than a third of Americans in the January update mention terrorism, national security or war as the most important problems facing the country, about half as many as in October. At the same time, and perhaps as one reason for this trend, the poll shows that Americans are increasingly likely to feel the United States is winning the war on terrorism.

Most Important Problem

Last October, 64% of Americans mentioned terrorism, national security, or the war as the most important problem facing the United States -- a remarkable if not unexpected reflection of the events of Sept. 11.

But, the salience of terrorism as measured by responses to this question has faded over the past three months. In November, 59% mentioned terrorism and associated war and national security concerns. By December, it was down to 47%. This month, in our Jan. 7-9 poll, only 35% mention these categories.

The responses to this type of open-ended question do not necessarily mean that terrorism is no longer considered important, but more directly that it is much less "top-of-mind" now than it was in the first month or two after the terrorist attacks.

What has replaced terrorism in response to the "most important problem" question? To a modest degree, the economy. In the Sept. 7-10 poll, completed just before the attacks, 39% of Americans mentioned some aspect of the economy. That number fell to just 20% in October, dwarfed by the prominence of terrorism in Americans' minds, but has gradually edged its way back up to 33% in the January poll -- almost, but not quite, as prominent as it had been pre-Sept. 11.

Beyond terrorism and the economy, perceptions of the top problem facing the country are widely scattered. Six percent mention education and another 6% mention ethics and morality. Four percent talk about a lack of faith in government, while smaller numbers mention such things as poverty, health care, crime, and drugs. (The complete review of responses to this most important problem question is displayed at the bottom of this article.)

Who's Winning?

The drop in top-of-mind concern about terrorism as the country's top problem has been accompanied by a continuing positive assessment of the progress of the war against terrorism. Two-thirds of Americans now say that the United States and its allies are winning the war against terrorism, about the same as last month, but up significantly from November, when just a little more than half said the United States was winning, and October, when only 42% said this. Today, a quarter of Americans say that neither side is winning, while 7% say the terrorists are winning.

An analysis of the pattern of responses to this question shows a continuing -- but relatively modest -- divide along partisan lines. Seventy-five percent of Republicans and independents who lean Republican say the United States is winning, compared to 62% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic.

Gallup has for many years asked Americans whether it was a mistake to send troops into action in various wars -- going back to 1950 and the Korean War. This pattern changes quite rapidly. In 1965, for example, when asked about Vietnam, just 24% of Americans said it had been a mistake to send troops to fight in that country, but that number broke over the 50% line in August 1968 and ultimately reached 61% by May 1971.

In the current situation, however, there is hardly any questioning -- yet -- of the wisdom of the U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan. Just 6% say it was a mistake to send military forces to Afghanistan, the lowest "mistake" number in the history of Gallup's having asked the question.

Bush Approval

The first reading of the public's rating of the job President Bush is doing in the new year -- 84% -- reflects a continuing high level of support, although down just slightly from the average of 87% Bush received across 10 different polls conducted in 2001 after Sept. 11.

  • There continues to be almost no gender gap in Bush job approval, with women giving him almost as high a rating as men do.
  • There is a 26% gap between the rating Republicans give Bush (97%) and the rating Democrats give him (71%), but the latter figure is still remarkable given the usual tendency for Americans of one party to disapprove of the performance of a president of the other major party.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,015 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Jan. 7-9, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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.

Who do you think is currently winning the war against terrorism -- [ROTATED: the U.S. and its allies, neither side, or the terrorists]?

BASED ON -- 521 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

U.S. and
its allies

Neither
side

The
terrorists

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

War on Terrorism

       

2002 Jan 7-9

66

25

7

2

         

2001 Dec 6-9 ^

64

28

5

3

2001 Nov 8-11

53

33

11

3

2001 Oct 11-14

42

44

11

3

 

U.S. and
its allies

Neither
side


Iraq

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

Persian Gulf War

       

1991 Feb 14-17

75

21

1

3

1991 Jan 19-22

66

26

*

8

         

^

Based on full sample

Who do you think is currently winning the war in the Persian Gulf -- the U.S. and its allies, Iraq, or neither side?

* Less than 0.5%



Do you think the United States made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan, or not?

BASED ON -- 494 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

 


Yes


No

No opinion

   


Yes


No

No opinion

 

%

%

%

   

%

%

%

Afghanistan

       

Vietnam War

     

2002 Jan 7-9

6

93

1

 

1973 Jan 12-15

60

29

11

         

1971 May 14-17

61

28

11

2001 Nov 8-11

9

89

2

 

1971 Jan 8-11

60

31

9

         

1970 May 21-26

56

36

8

Yugoslavia

       

1970 Apr 2-7

51

34

15

1999 Jun 4-5

43

53

4

 

1970 Jan 15-20

57

32

11

1999 Apr 21

42

51

7

 

1969 Sep 17-22

58

32

10

         

1969 Jan 23-28

52

39

9

Persian Gulf War

       

1968 Sep 26-Oct 1

54

37

9

1991 Jul 18-21

15

82

3

 

1968 Aug 7-12

53

35

12

1991 Feb 28-Mar 3

10

87

3

 

1968 Apr 4-9

48

40

12

1991 Feb 7-10

21

76

3

 

1968 Feb 22-27

49

42

9

1991 Jan 30-Feb 2

18

80

2

 

1968 Feb 1-6

46

42

12

1991 Jan 23-26

18

77

5

 

1967 Dec 7-12

45

46

9

1991 Jan 17-20

16

80

4

 

1967 Oct 6-11

47

44

9

1991 Jan 11-13

29

65

6

 

1967 Jul 13-18

41

48

11

1991 Jan 3-6

30

61

9

 

1967 Apr 19-24

37

50

13

1990 Dec 6-9

28

66

6

 

1967 Jan 26-31

32

52

16

1990 Nov 29-Dec 2

29

66

5

 

1966 Nov 10-15

31

52

17

1990 Nov 15-18

27

65

8

 

1966 Sep 8-13

35

48

17

1990 Nov 8-11

27

68

5

 

1966 May 5-10

36

49

15

1990 Nov 2-4

25

67

8

 

1966 Mar 3-8

26

59

15

1990 Oct 25-28

24

71

5

 

1965 Aug 27-Sep 1

24

60

16

1990 Oct 18-21

26

67

7

         

1990 Oct 11-14

27

68

5

 

Korean War

     

1990 Oct 3-4

21

71

8

 

2000 Jun 6-7

34

47

19

1990 Sep 27-30

20

73

7

 

1953 Jan 11-16

36

50

14

1990 Sep 14-16

18

73

10

 

1952 Oct 17-22

43

37

19

1990 Sep 10-11

19

76

5

 

1952 Oct 9-14

43

37

20

1990 Aug 30-Sep 2

16

76

8

 

1952 Feb 28-Mar 5

51

35

14

1990 Aug 23-26

18

76

6

 

1951 Aug 3-8

42

48

11

1990 Aug 16-19

17

75

8

 

1951 Jun 16-21

43

40

17

         

1951 Apr 16-21

37

45

18

Vietnam War

       

1951 Mar 26-31

45

43

12

2000 Nov 13-15

69

24

7

 

1951 Feb 4-9

49

41

9

1995 Apr 21-24

71

23

6

 

1951 Jan 1-5

49

38

13

1990 Mar 15-18

74

22

4

 

1950 Aug 20-25

20

65

15

                 

YUGOLSLAVIA WORDING: In view of the developments since we entered the fighting in Yugoslavia, do you think the United States made a mistake sending military forces to fight in Yugoslavia?

PERSIAN GULF WAR WORDING (Feb. 28-Mar 3, 1991-Jul. 18-21, 1991): In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to the Persian Gulf region, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to the Persian Gulf region, or not?

PERSIAN GULF WAR WORDING (Aug. 16-19, 1990-Feb. 7-10, 1990): In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Saudi Arabia, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Saudi Arabia, or not?

VIETNAM WAR WORDING (1990-2000): Looking back, do you think the United States made a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam?

VIETNAM WAR WORDING (1965-1973): In view of the developments since we entered the fighting in Vietnam, do you think the U.S. made a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam?

KOREAN WAR WORDING (2000): Based on what you have heard or read, do you think the United States made a mistake in going into the war in Korea, or not?

KOREAN WAR WORDING (Feb. 1951-Jan. 1953): Do you think the United States made a mistake in going into the war in Korea, or not?

KOREAN WAR WORDING (Aug. 1950-Jan. 1951): In view of the developments since we entered the fighting in Korea, do you think the United States made a mistake in deciding to defend Korea, or not?



What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [Open-ended]

   

Jan
7-9,
2002

Dec
6-9,
2001

Nov
8-11, 2001

Oct
11-14, 2001

Sep
7-10, 2001

Aug
16-19,
2001

Jul
19-22,
2001

   

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

                 
 

ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

33

30

24

20

39

34

31

1

Economy in general

21

19

16

13

22

15

14

2

Unemployment/jobs

8

9

6

4

10

9

6

3

Taxes

2

1

1

1

2

3

4

4

Recession

2

1

1

--

2

1

--

5

Federal budget deficit/federal debt

*

--

--

*

2

2

1

6

High cost of living/inflation

*

1

1

3

1

1

4

7

Gap between rich and poor

*

*

*

*

1

*

1

8

Wage issues

*

*

*

*

*

1

*

9

Fuel/Oil Prices

*

*

--

*

1

1

2

 

Trade relations/deficit

--

*

*

*

1

--

1

 

Other specific economic

--

--

--

--

--

3

*

                 
 

NON-ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

68

75

79

85

65

62

71

1

Terrorism

23

24

37

46

--

--

--

2

Fear of war/feelings of fear in this country

8

17

13

10

1

1

1

3

Education/poor education/access to education

6

5

3

3

11

9

10

4

Ethics/moral/religious/family decline; dishonesty; lack of integrity

6

8

4

6

9

9

9

5

National security

4

6

9

8

*

1

*

6

Dissatisfaction with government/ Congress/ politicians/ candidates; Poor leadership; corruption

4

4

3

1

6

5

6

7

Unifying the country

3

1

2

1

*

1

1

8

Poverty/ hunger/ homelessness

3

4

2

2

5

3

6

9

Poor health care/ hospitals; high cost of health care

3

2

2

1

5

6

7

10

Lack of Money

2

1

1

--

*

2

*

11

Crime/violence

2

1

1

1

7

6

9

12

Drugs

2

1

1

*

4

4

6

13

Immigration/illegal aliens

2

2

3

2

5

2

3

14

Children's behavior/way they are raised

1

2

*

*

2

2

3

15

Environment/ pollution

1

1

1

1

2

4

5

16

Foreign aid/focus overseas

1

1

1

*

*

5

1

17

Lack of respect for each other

1

1

*

1

1

1

1

18

Care for the elderly

1

*

*

*

1

1

1

19

The media

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

20

Welfare

1

*

--

1

1

1

1

21

Race relations/ racism

1

2

1

2

2

1

2

22

Judicial system/courts/laws

*

*

1

*

2

2

1

23

International issues/ problems

*

2

2

3

3

*

2

24

Abortion

*

*

*

--

*

1

2

25

Medicare/Social Security issues

*

1

*

1

5

3

4

26

Child abuse

*

*

--

--

*

*

*

27

Guns/gun control

*

*

*

*

1

1

*

28

Overpopulation

*

*

*

*

*

1

1

29

Lack of military defense

*

1

*

*

1

*

3

30

Lack of energy sources; the energy crisis

*

*

*

*

1

--

3

 

School shootings/school violence

--

*

--

*

*

*

*

 

AIDS

--

*

--

--

*

*

--

 

Losing personal freedoms because of war

--

--

--

6

--

--

--

 

Advancement of computers/technology

--

--

--

--

*

--

*

 

Other non-economic

5

6

3

6

3

6

4

                 
 

No opinion

3

3

4

5

4

7

6

 

Total

109%

128%

116%

108%

125%

122%

132%

                 

Totals add to more than 100% due to multiple responses

             

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