Politics

Majority in U.S. Say Bin Laden's Death Makes America Safer

by Lydia Saad

Still, 62% say it is likely that terrorists will act against the U.S. in the next few weeks

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans express mixed views on how Osama bin Laden's demise will affect U.S. national security, according to a Monday night USA Today/Gallup poll. A slight majority (54%) believe bin Laden's death will make the U.S. safer from terrorism, nearly double the 28% who fear it will make it less safe.

Perceived Impact of Death of Osama Bin Laden on U.S. Safety, May 2011

Despite this optimism about the broad impact of bin Laden's death on U.S. national security, more Americans believe an act of terrorism is imminent than have said so at any time since the start of the Iraq war in 2003. Overall, 62% think an act of terrorism is either "very" or "somewhat likely" to occur in the U.S. in the next several weeks, with 17% considering it very likely. The current results indicate Americans are slightly more likely to be worried about a terrorist incident occurring than they were shortly after the London bus and subway bombings in July 2005, but are less worried than at the start of the Iraq war as well as immediately after 9/11.

2001-2011 Trend: Perceived Chance of Terrorism in Next Several Weeks

Although the U.S. Homeland Security department has not raised the U.S. terror alert level after Sunday's killing of bin Laden, security has been beefed up in New York City and several other high-risk terrorism targets out of retaliation concerns. The killing has also sparked much speculation about whether bin Laden's demise will result in the rise of successors even more intent on harming the West or, alternatively, lead to the splintering and weakening of terrorist groups.

Amid these debates, fewer than 4 in 10 Americans, 39%, say bin Laden's death makes them feel "a lot more confident" that the U.S. can succeed in the war against Islamic terrorism. Another third are "a little more confident."

Perceived Impact of Death of Osama Bin Laden on War on Terrorism, May 2011

Underscoring their continued concerns about the threat of terrorism, more Americans say the U.S. still has important work to do in Afghanistan and should maintain its troops there than believe the U.S. has accomplished its goals there and should call its troops home, 52% vs. 45%.

May 2011: Position on U.S. Mission and Troops in Afghanistan


These preferences about the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan are consistent with the slight support Gallup found for the Afghanistan mission in March. At that time, 53% said sending military forces to Afghanistan had not been a mistake, while 42% disagreed.

Slight Majority Impressed by Obama's Commander-in-Chief Display

As details about the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden and the role President Obama played continue to emerge, Americans at this stage report feeling somewhat more positive about Obama's leadership of the military as a result. A third say the death of bin Laden makes them feel a lot more confident in Obama as commander in chief and another 21% say it makes them a little more confident. Fewer than half, 43%, are no more confident.

Most Democrats are now more confident in Obama on this measure -- either a lot or a little more -- while most Republicans say they are not more confident. Independents are closely divided, at 51% more confident and 44% not more confident.

Change in Confidence in Barack Obama as Commander in Chief Since Bin Laden Killed? May 2011

The overall percentage saying bin Laden's death gives them a lot more confidence in Obama as commander in chief is similar to the 35% in the same poll who give the president a great deal of credit for the success of the mission.

Bottom Line

While fearful that a retaliatory attack could be imminent, Americans are guardedly optimistic about the longer-term national security ramifications of the dramatic U.S. military operation that killed al Qaeda leader bin Laden at his residence in Pakistan.

Americans are twice as likely to consider the United States safer rather than less safe as a result. However, they continue to believe the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan -- initiated in October 2001 to destroy al Qaeda terrorist training camps -- is needed. And they have fairly modest views about what the U.S. military's success at locating and killing bin Laden means for the war on terrorism more generally. Although three-quarters say their confidence that the U.S. will win that war is at least somewhat higher as a result, fewer than half, 39%, say it makes them a lot more confident. Similarly, not quite a third of Americans, 32%, say bin Laden's death gives them a lot more confidence in Obama as commander in chief.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 2, 2011, with a random sample of 645 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones. The sample includes a minimum quota of 240 cell phone respondents and 360 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents were chosen within each household on the basis of the youngest male or oldest female at home.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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