Religion and Social Trends

Americans Still Consider Sept. 11 Most Tragic Event of Their Lives

Six-month anniversary of attacks, however, finds that majority of Americans say their personal lives have not undergone permanent change

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Six months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, Americans continue to perceive that the attacks are the most tragic event of their lifetimes. The majority of Americans also say the wounds from the attacks have not yet healed. Only about a quarter of Americans say their personal lives have been changed permanently by the attacks, however, and the incidence of such things as crying and praying as a result of the attacks has dropped significantly since immediately after the attacks.

A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted March 8-9, included a series of questions asking Americans to reflect on the impact of Sept. 11 six months after it occurred.

Wounds Still Not Healed

On the evening of Sept. 11, 87% of Americans told Gallup interviewers that they defined the events of Sept. 11 as "the most tragic news event" of their lifetimes. We might have expected to see this percentage drop as the horror of the events has receded from immediate consciousness over the last six months, but there has actually been little change. Eighty percent agree with the "most tragic" statement today. (Almost nine out of 10 Americans under 50 think this is the most tragic event of their lifetimes, compared to a high, but slightly lower seven out of 10 of those 50 and older.)

Underscoring this sense of the enormity of Sept. 11 in the minds of Americans is the finding that relatively few respondents in the poll -- just 24% -- say the country's "wounds" as a result of the events have been healed.

The Impact of the Attacks Is Less Powerful at the Personal Level

Despite these perceptions of the attacks' significance, the poll results make it clear that in many ways -- as we would predict -- the daily lives of Americans are less directly affected today than they were in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11.

That's not to say Americans don't think the attacks have had a permanent impact on the country as a whole. When we asked Americans this past weekend if they thought "Americans have permanently changed the way they live" as a result of Sept. 11, a majority -- 55% -- said yes. This is actually a little higher than the 49% who answered a similar question in the affirmative on the night of Sept. 11. In other words, a larger percentage of the public is certain that the attacks have wrought permanent change in the country than thought this would be the case just after the attacks occurred.

But, the sense of a permanent change is much less prevalent at the personal level. Only 25% of Americans say Sept. 11 has caused a permanent change in the way they personally are living their lives today.

This distinction between views of broad social indicators "out there" and local or personal ones is not uncommon. Americans typically are more extreme in their views of what is happening across the country than they are when they are asked to evaluate matters closer to home. In this situation, we assume that Americans hear and see media reports about the impact of 9-11 on people and families across the country, and therefore assume that 9-11 must be causing permanent change -- even if they haven't seen permanent changes in their own backyards. Additionally, the war in Afghanistan remains very much a part of the daily news diet of most Americans, and it is possible that this war and its potentially long-range duration may cause the more generalized perception of permanent change for the country as a whole.

Still, the finding that only a relatively small number -- about a quarter -- of Americans feel Sept. 11 caused permanent change in their personal lives is borne out when we look at the responses to a series of additional questions included in the weekend poll. These questions probed specific ways in which the attacks might yet be affecting the public. Some of the more specific behavioral changes we measured in the days after the attacks last September have diminished significantly in the months since.

Here are the findings:

Within the past two weeks, have you, personally, done any of the following as a direct result of the events of September 11th? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. Cry

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

21%

79

*

       

2001 Sep 14-15^

70%

30

*



B. Display an American flag

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

68%

32

*

       

2001 Sep 14-15^

82%

18

*



C. Pray more than you usually do

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

37%

63

*

       

2001 Sep 14-15^

74%

25

1



D. Show more affection for your loved ones than you normally do

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

48%

51

1

       

2001 Sep 14-15^

77%

22

1



E. Attend a religious service

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

28%

72

*

       


 

^ SEP. 14-15, 2001 WORDING: As a result of the terrorist attacks this past Tuesday, have you, personally, done or plan to do any of the following? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

* Less than 0.5%



The self-reported incidence of crying and praying is off most dramatically, as can be seen. Even so, it is important to note that one-fifth of Americans, six months after Sept. 11, claim to have cried within the last two weeks as a direct result of Sept. 11. Although this is down substantially from the days after the attacks, it is nonetheless a remarkable number.

It is still common in many places around the United States to see flags displayed on homes and on cars. Thus, it may not be surprising to see that as a result of Sept. 11, almost seven out of 10 Americans claim they have personally displayed an American flag within the last two weeks -- down slightly from the 82% who said on the weekend after the attacks that they had displayed a flag.

About half of Americans indicate they are showing "more affection for your loved ones than you normally do" as a result of Sept. 11. This is down from 77% on the weekend after the attacks -- but is still high.

Impact on Flying, Travel, Skyscrapers and Crowds

What about the more direct behavioral impact of the attacks? The poll finds that about a third of Americans say they are less willing to fly than they were before Sept. 11. That's down only 10 percentage points from the weekend after the attacks. (Previous analysis tells us, however, that many of those who claim to have become less likely to fly are infrequent fliers or those who never flew at all, even before Sept. 11.)

We find little change in the impact of the attacks on Americans' willingness to travel overseas. Forty-eight percent said they were less willing to do so right after the attacks and 45% say this today.

We also know that concern about future terrorist attacks has fallen as the days and weeks have gone on since Sept. 11. The curve of the public's perception that future attacks were likely went up after Sept. 11, peaking in mid-October, when 85% said it was at least somewhat likely that future terrorist attacks would occur over the "next several weeks." This includes 40% who said they were very likely to occur. Now, a much smaller -- but still very significant -- 52% say that attacks are likely in the next two weeks, but just 9% say they are very likely.

There are signs of concern about other issues, indicating they still bother at least some Americans. About a fourth say they are less willing to go into skyscrapers as a result of Sept. 11, down just a little from September, and a third say they are less willing to attend events where there are thousands of people. This last figure is virtually unchanged from September.

Holidays and Memorials

There is no strong consensus either way about a proposal that Sept. 11 should be a national holiday. About half of Americans say yes, and the same number say no. Age is a major factor here. As noted above, the perceived enormity of the events of Sept. 11 is higher among younger Americans than it is among older Americans. It is not surprising, then, to find that 60% of those 18-29 say Sept. 11 should be a national holiday, compared to only 37% of those 65 and older.

Do you think September 11th should -- or should not -- be a national holiday every year like Veteran's Day or Memorial Day?

 

 

Should

Should not

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

48%

48

4



Since Sept. 11, just 4% of Americans have been to the site in New York City where the Twin Towers used to be, but seven out of 10 of those who have not visited the site say they would want to visit it in the future if they happened to be in New York City. About a quarter say they would not want to see it.

Since September 11th, have you, personally, visited the site in New York City where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center used to be, or not?

 

 

Yes, have visited

No, have not

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

4%

96

*

       

* Less than 0.5%



If you happened to be in New York City today, would you want to visit the World Trade Center site, or not?

BASED ON -- 764 -- ADULTS WHO HAVE NOT VISITED THE WORLD TRADE CENTER SITE; ±4 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Yes, would visit

No, would not

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

71%

27

2



COMBINED RESPONSES (Q.28/Q.29)

 

2002 Mar 8-9

Have visited the site where the Twin Towers used to be

4%

 

Have not visited the site where the Twin Towers used to be

96

Would visit the World Trade Center site if in New York City

(68)

Would not visit the World Trade Center site if in New York City

(26)

Unsure

( 2 )

No opinion

*

* Less than 0.5%



Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 802 adults, 18 years and older, conducted March 8-9, 2002. 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 4 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.

Do you think this is -- or is not -- the most tragic news event in your lifetime?

 

 

Yes, is

No, is not

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

80%

19

1

       

2001 Sep 11

87%

12

1



As a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks, do you think Americans have permanently changed the way they live, or not?

BASED ON – 389 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Yes, changed

No, have not

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

55%

44

1

       

2001 Sep 11 ^

49%

45

6

       

^

WORDING: As a result of today's attacks, do you think Americans will permanently change the way they live, or not?



As a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks, have you permanently changed the way you live, or not?

BASED ON -- 413 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Yes, changed

No, have not

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

25%

75

0



As a result of the events that occurred on September 11th, would you say that now you are less willing to -- [RANDOM ORDER], or not?

A. Fly on airplanes

 

Less willing


No, not

MORE WILLING (vol.)

No
opinion

         

2002 Mar 8-9

33%

64

1

2

         

2001 Sep 14-15 ^

43%

56

*

1



B. Go into skyscrapers

 

Less willing


No, not

MORE WILLING (vol.)

No
opinion

         

2002 Mar 8-9

27%

70

1

2

         

2001 Sep 14-15 ^

35%

63

*

2



C. Attend events where there are thousands of people

 

Less willing


No, not

MORE WILLING (vol.)

No
opinion

         

2002 Mar 8-9

32%

66

1

1

         

2001 Sep 14-15 ^

30%

69

*

1



D. Travel overseas

 

Less willing


No, not

MORE WILLING (vol.)

No
opinion

         

2002 Mar 8-9

45%

52

1

2

         

2001 Sep 14-15 ^

48%

48

1

3



 

^

SEP. 14-15, 2001 WORDING: As a result of Tuesday's events, would you say that now you are less willing to [RANDOM ORDER], or not?

*

Less than 0.5%

(vol.) Volunteered response



Would you say that time has healed the wounds of the country that were caused by September 11th, or not?

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2002 Mar 8-9

24%

74

2



Which comes closest to your view -- you, personally, have closure, that is, you have come to terms with the events of September 11th and have moved on, you expect there will be a time when you have closure and will move on but that has not happened yet, or you, personally, will never have closure with the events of September 11th?

 

 

Have
closure now

Will have
closure

Will never
have closure

No
opinion

         

2002 Mar 8-9

48%

31

19

2



Generally speaking, do you think that things in the country are -- [ROTATED: completely back to normal, somewhat back to normal, but not completely, or not yet back to normal]?

 

 

Completely back to normal

Somewhat back
to normal

Not back
to normal

No
opinion

         

2002 Mar 8-9

3

62

34

1



Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/5446/Americans-Still-Consider-Sept-Most-Tragic-Event-Their-Lives.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030