Terrorism, Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction “Most Critical Threats”

by David W. Moore

Few partisan and socioeconomic differences on rankings of threats

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Overwhelmingly, Americans view international terrorism and the possible spread of weapons of mass destruction as the two most critical threats facing this country, according to a recent Gallup survey. Further down the list of threats to the country is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, followed by Islamic fundamentalism, possibly high levels of immigration, the conflict between North and South Korea, and economic competition from low-wage countries. Conflicts in Asia, as well as the military power of China and Russia, are viewed with less concern.

The poll, conducted Feb. 9-12, asked respondents to evaluate a list of possible threats to the vital interests of the United States over the next 10 years. Two-thirds or more of the respondents identified each threat as either "critical" or "important but not critical." Relatively few respondents said the threats were not important at all.

The results show 82% of Americans citing international terrorism as a critical threat, compared with 75% who make the same judgment about the spread of weapons of mass destruction to unfriendly powers.

I am going to read you a list of possible threats to the vital interest of the United States in the next 10 years. For each one, please tell me if you see this as a critical threat, an important but not critical threat, or not an important threat at all.

 

2004 Feb 9-12
(sorted by "critical threat")

Critical
threat

Important,
not critical

Total

%

%

%

International terrorism

82

16

98

The spread of weapons of mass destruction to unfriendly powers

75

20

95

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians

58

32

90

Islamic fundamentalism

51

31

82

Large numbers of immigrants entering the United States

50

35

85

The conflict between North Korea and South Korea

48

38

86

Economic competition from low-wage countries

46

37

83

The military power of China

39

46

85

The conflict between India and Pakistan

32

52

84

The conflict between China and Taiwan

23

51

74

The military power of Russia

18

50

68

The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians comes in third on the list, with 58% citing it as a critical threat, compared with the next four threats, cited by about half of Americans: Islamic fundamentalism, large numbers of immigrants entering the United States, the conflict on the Korean peninsula, and economic competition from low-wage countries.

China's military power appears to be more threatening to Americans than Russia's military power, though neither threat is seen as critical by most Americans. The conflicts in Asia -- between India and Pakistan, and between China and Taiwan -- also appear less than critical to most Americans.

Partisan Rankings

The rankings of the threats tend to be consistent among most major subgroups of Americans, with only a few instances in which there are differences of 10 percentage points or more between groups.

Some of the largest differences in threat assessments are partisan.

 

Critical Threats Compared by Party Affiliation

(differences of 10 points or more between Republicans and Democrats)

 

Repub-
licans

Indepen-
dents

Demo-
crats

%

%

%

International terrorism

92

79

77

The spread of weapons of mass destruction to unfriendly powers

83

74

69

Islamic fundamentalism

61

51

42

The conflict between North Korea and South Korea

58

45

42

Economic competition from low-wage countries

40

48

50

Republicans are much more likely to cite international terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, Islamic fundamentalism, and the conflict on the Korean peninsula as "critical" threats than are Democrats -- with independents falling into the middle. Democrats are more likely to cite economic competition from low-wage countries than are Republicans.

These partisan differences reflect the larger conflict between Republican and Democratic leaders on how best to deal with the problems, all of which are part of the issues that are likely to dominate the presidential election campaign in the coming months.

Differences by Income

Lower and higher income Americans tend to agree on most of the threats, but on four items there are major differences among the income groups.

Lower income Americans give a much higher ranking to the threat of large numbers of immigrants entering the country, and also to economic competition from low-wage countries, than do higher income Americans. Higher income Americans give much higher rankings to Islamic fundamentalism and the Korean conflict than do lower income Americans.

 

Critical Threats Compared by Household Income

 

 

<$20K

$20K-<$30K

$30K-<$50K

$50K-<$75K

$75K+

%

%

%

%

%

Islamic fundamentalism

29

49

55

53

60

Large numbers of immigrants entering the United States

54

63

56

45

39

The conflict between North Korea and South Korea

38

47

46

51

57

Economic competition from low-wage countries

50

54

49

41

37

A similar pattern is found by education, with less educated Americans less concerned about Islamic fundamentalism and the Korean conflict, but more concerned about large numbers of immigrants entering the country and the economic competition that could affect jobs.

Attentive Americans

The poll shows that "attentive" Americans -- those who pay relatively more attention to foreign affairs -- differ from the less attentive on only a few items.

 

Assessment of Critical Threats
Compared by How Closely People Follow Foreign Affairs

How closely follow foreign affairs:

Very

Somewhat

Not closely

%

%

%

Islamic fundamentalism

62

48

43

The conflict between North Korea and South Korea

54

51

33

The conflict between India and Pakistan

40

29

28

In each of the cases shown in the accompanying table, people who say they follow foreign affairs "very" closely are much more likely than the least attentive Americans to rate each threat as "critical."

Overall, the differences between the most and the least attentive Americans can be found on the following threats:

  • The least attentive Americans rate the threat of immigration as more critical than Islamic fundamentalism, while the most attentive Americans reverse the order.
  • The least attentive Americans also rate economic competition from low-wage countries as more critical than the Korean conflict, while the most attentive Americans are slightly more likely to rate the Korean conflict as more critical than economic competition.

Despite these instances of differences, the major pattern in the survey results is one of consistency among most major subgroups of Americans on most rankings of threats.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,002 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-12, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±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.

I am going to read you a list of possible threats to the vital interest of the United States in the next 10 years. For each one, please tell me if you see this as a critical threat, an important but not critical threat, or not an important threat at all. [RANDOM ORDER]

A. The military power of China

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

39%

46

11

4

B. The military power of Russia

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

18%

50

29

3

C. International terrorism

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

82%

16

2

*

* Less than 0.5%

D. The spread of weapons of mass destruction to unfriendly powers

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

75%

20

4

1

E. Economic competition from low-wage countries

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

46%

37

15

2

F. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

58%

32

8

2

G. The conflict between North Korea and South Korea

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

48%

38

11

3

H. The conflict between China and Taiwan

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

23%

51

17

9

I. The conflict between India and Pakistan

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

32%

52

11

5

J. Islamic fundamentalism

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

51%

31

12

6

K. Large numbers of immigrants entering the United States

 

 

Critical

Important

Not important

No opinion

         

2004 Feb 9-12

50%

35

14

1

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