Americans Less Concerned about Terrorist Attacks Five Years After Oklahoma City

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Majority believes that others in addition to McVeigh and Nichols involved in bombing

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- April 19, 2000 marks the fifth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which resulted in the deaths of 168 people. The incident was the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil. This week, a new memorial is being unveiled in Oklahoma City to remember the victims of this tragedy.

How likely is it that such a bombing could take place again? Over time, the number of Americans who are worried about a repeat of the tragedy has declined from the levels that were measured immediately after the incident in 1995. The latest Gallup Poll, conducted April 7-9, shows that 24% of Americans say they are worried about being the victim of a terrorist attack like the Oklahoma City bombing. This number is significantly lower than one year after the bombing (35% in April 1996), and lower still than immediately after the bombing (42% in April 1995).

To date, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols have been convicted of the crime, and are currently serving time in federal prison. McVeigh is under sentence of death for federal murder charges, while Nichols is under life sentence for involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. However, Americans continue to think that others in addition to McVeigh and Nichols may also have been responsible for the bombing, even though no one else has been charged. In the latest poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) say that others might have been involved in the incident.

The prevalence of this conspiracy theory belief today, however, is lower than in 1997, when 73% thought others may have been involved. The proportion of Americans who believe that only McVeigh and Nichols were responsible has increased from 16% in 1997 to 23% today. Differences of opinion exist on this matter according to partisanship, with Republicans more likely to believe that only McVeigh and Nichols were involved (32%) than independents (19%) or Democrats (20%).

Federal Government Power
At the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, there was some speculation that the crime was an extreme manifestation of anti-government beliefs held by a radical fringe. However, a Gallup Poll question first asked in the aftermath of the bombing found that one aspect of these beliefs -- that the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens -- actually rings true for a number of Americans. Today, 45% hold this view, compared to 39% at the time of the bombing in 1995. Slightly more than half of the public, 51%, now disagrees, saying that the federal government does not pose such a threat. Not surprisingly, conservatives are much more likely to believe the federal government is too large and powerful (53%) than are liberals (33%). Men are also more likely than women hold this view (52% compared to 37%), as are those at lower education levels (50% of those with a high school education or less, compared with 33% of those who are college graduates).

Survey Methods
The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,006 adults, 18 years and older, conducted April 7-9, 2000. For results based on the whole 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.

How worried are you that you or someone in your family will become a victim of a terrorist attack similar to the bombing in Oklahoma City -- very worried, somewhat worried, not too worried, or not worried at all?

BASED ON -- 487 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; +/- 5 PCT PTS

  Very
worried
Somewhat
worried
Not too
worried
Not worried
at all
No
opinion
  % % % % %
2000 Apr 7-9 4 20 41 34 1
 
1996 Apr 9-10 13 22 33 32 *
1995 Apr 21-23 14 28 33 24 1

As you may know, the only two people who have been charged in the Oklahoma City bombings are Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh. Do you think that responsibility for the bombings is limited to these men, or do you think there are other people responsible for the bombings who have not been charged?

BASED ON -- 519 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; +/- 5 PCT PTS

  Only Nichols
and/or
McVeigh
responsible
Others
are
responsible
No
opinion
  % % %
2000 Apr 7-9 23 64 13
 
1997 Dec 18-21 16 73 11

Do you think the federal government has become so large and powerful that is poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens, or don't you think so?

  Yes,
immediate
threat
Don't
think
so
No
opinion
  % % %
2000 Apr 7-9 45 51 4
 
1995 Apr 23-24 39 58 3
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