Americans Want Tighter Airport Security at Any Cost

by Lydia Saad

Majority supports every major proposal

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this week to determine whether the federal government will take control of airport security in the future. Aside from this debate, a number of specific options for securing the safety of commercial air travel have been floated since the Sept. 11 terrorist hijacking of four passenger planes, and, to varying degrees, the public supports all of them. From armed marshals to longer check-in times, and everything in between, Americans favor a wide range of proposals designed to thwart terrorists from boarding airplanes and gaining command of cockpits.

  • The most widely supported air safety measure tested in public opinion surveys over the past two months is "making cockpit doors on all passenger airliners stronger and more secure," a proposal initially resisted by some pilots but favored by 96% of Americans.
  • A variety of polls find support for placing armed sky marshals on all commercial airliners at around 90%.
  • Putting pilot control of aircraft ahead of passenger comfort and safety is a remedy favored by 85% of Americans.
  • Roughly three-quarters or more of the public favors specific proposals that would negatively impact passenger convenience, such as requiring passengers to check in two to three hours before a flight (75% favor this) and limiting carry-on luggage to one bag (80% are in favor).
  • When asked simply whether they would favor turning over the job of airport security to the federal government, 77% of Americans say yes, although support for this drops to 63% if the Army or National Guard would be in charge.
  • About two-thirds of Americans are in favor of arming airline pilots (68%) or other airline personnel (65%). This is clearly more controversial than the sky marshal program that receives close to unanimous public support.
  • A Gallup poll in mid-September found a bare majority (51%) in favor of prohibiting all passenger carry-on bags, including purses, briefcases and computers.

Lax Airport Security Blamed More Than FBI or CIA Failings

According to Gallup's most recent survey, conducted Oct. 19-21, most Americans welcome more visible signs of increased security at airports, with 68% saying the presence of National Guard troops, for instance, makes them feel more secure.

The public's sense of airport security was clearly shaken after Sept. 11, when Americans identified lax airport security, more than any other factor, as most to blame for what happened. A mid-September Gallup poll found 49% of Americans assigning a "great deal" of blame for the attacks to airport security, compared to just 22% who blamed the CIA and 18% the FBI. A Newsweek poll around the same time confirmed this result, with 57% of Americans blaming "inadequate security at airports" for allowing the attacks to happen, compared to just 30% blaming the FBI and CIA for failing to identify and stop the terrorist plots from being carried out.

Perhaps in part because of the perception that terrorism is most effectively stopped at the airport gate, measures to strengthen airport security tend to be far less controversial than are other proposals for combating terrorism. A late September survey by Newsweek found that while 72% would "strongly favor" tight new restrictions on air travel, strong support is much lower for the establishment of a national identification card for all United States residents (51%), for random identification checks on the nation's streets and highways (26%) and for making it easier for federal authorities to monitor private e-mail and telephone communications (20%).

Survey Methods

The Gallup results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,066 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Oct. 19-21, 2001. 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. Data reported in this article based on surveys conducted by firms other than Gallup are available for review through the University of Connecticut Roper Center.

Would you say the visible signs of increased security, such as National Guard troops at airports and the Coast Guard boarding ships at major U.S. ports, has made you feel -- [ROTATED: more secure (or) less secure] -- about potential terrorism, or have they had no effect on you either way?

 

 

More secure

Less secure

No effect

No opinion

         

2001 Oct 19-21

68%

2

30

*

         
         

* Less than 0.5%

       


 

Next, please tell me if you favor or oppose taking each of the following actions in the United States for at least several years. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. Requiring Arabs, including those who have become U.S. citizens, to carry a special ID

 

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

       

2001 Oct 19-21

49%

49

2



B. Instituting new security procedures that would require passengers to check in two to three hours before their flight is scheduled to depart

 

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

       

2001 Oct 19-21

75%

23

2



C. Limiting airline passengers to carry on only one small item such as a purse or briefcase

 

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

       

2001 Oct 19-21

80%

18

2



D. Making it easier for legal authorities to read mail, e-mail, or tap phones without the person's knowledge

 

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

       

2001 Oct 19-21

37%

60

3



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