Politics

Majority of Americans Think Near-Term Terrorism Unlikely

by Lydia Saad

Thirty-nine percent say it is likely, nearing low since 2001

PRINCETON, NJ -- By 57% to 39%, more Americans think a terrorist attack on the United States is unlikely to happen in the next few weeks than say an attack is likely. This is based on Gallup polling conducted Nov. 20-22, prior to President Obama's address to the nation on Afghanistan in which he said the need to fight terrorism is the primary reason he is committing more U.S. troops to the conflict there.

2001-2009 Trend: Perceived Likelihood of Terrorist Attack in U.S.

More specifically, 10% of Americans believe it is very likely that terrorist acts will occur in the U.S. over the next several weeks while 29% say this is somewhat likely, 36% say not too likely, and 21% say not at all likely.

How Likely Is It That There Will Be Acts of Terrorism in the United States Over the Next Several Weeks?

"Republicans have grown more concerned about the chances of a terrorist attack (spanning the transition from President Bush to President Obama). Democrats have become less concerned, while the views of political independents have not changed."

Despite the recent mass killing at Ft. Hood in Texas, which some have referred to as a terrorist attack, public anxiety about the likelihood of terrorism today is on the low end of the range Gallup has recorded since establishing the question right after 9/11. In fact, the only lower reading occurred in June 2005, when 35% said terrorism was likely. That result came just weeks before suicide bombings carried out on the London transit system took 52 lives and injured hundreds of others. The bombings helped push concern about a near-term U.S. attack up to 57% in the first month after they occurred.

Today's finding is nearly identical to the reading from June 2007, when 40% said an attack was likely. However, there are significant differences by party ID between those two measurements. Republicans have grown more concerned about the chances of a terrorist attack (spanning the transition from President Bush to President Obama). Democrats have become less concerned, while the views of political independents have not changed.

Perceived Likelihood of Terrorist Attack -- 2007 vs. 2009, by Party ID

The November 2009 poll finds relatively small differences between men and women, and among various age groups, in their perceptions about the likelihood of a near-term terrorist event. However, Americans with higher levels of education are less likely to say a terrorist attack is likely than are those with no college degree.

Perceived Likelihood of Terrorist Attack, by Education, November 2009

Bottom Line

Since 9/11, U.S. public officials have relayed the United States' success in foiling numerous terrorist plots against the country. President Obama did the same Tuesday night, saying, "In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror." Yet the Gallup trend shows that without the occurrence of a clear terrorist attack in the U.S. or abroad, or an obvious event -- such as the beginning of military action in Iraq or Afghanistan -- that might heighten the perceived risk of terrorism, Americans have been inclined to downplay the chances of terrorism in recent years. The latest finding is consistent with Gallup polling earlier this year that showed Americans' fear of becoming a victim of terrorism was near the five-year low.

Whether this relative complacency among Americans about terrorism continues, and how it affects public support for Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan, remains to be seen.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 20-22, 2009. 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.

2001-2009 Detailed Trend: How Likely Is It That There Will Be Acts of Terrorism in the United States Over the Next Several Weeks?

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