Fewer than half of all Americans think the country is safer now than it
was on Sept. 11, 2001, and more than three-quarters expect the United
States to be the target of a major terrorist attack at home or abroad in
the next few months, according to a new poll.
The survey, released yesterday by the nonpartisan Council for
Excellence in Government, found that about half of respondents were
concerned that terrorists would strike near their home or work.
Seventy-three percent identified themselves as anxious or concerned
about terrorism, and 26 percent said they were calm.
The survey findings come at a time when national security is a
central issue in the presidential campaign, and after the Bush
administration waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of
fighting terrorism and making the United States safer from foreign
threats. The findings follow by one year the creation of the Department
of Homeland Security to better focus government resources on the task of
keeping Americans safe at home. And they exist in an environment in
which numerous buildings and airports have been fortified with security
checkpoints to ward off potential attacks.
"These numbers present a big challenge," said Patricia McGinnis,
president of the council, "because less than 50 percent feel more safe
today than they did after September 11, after all that's happened."
A spokesman for the Bush administration's National Security Council
declined to comment on the record on the survey results.
The survey of 1,633 adults from Feb. 5 to Feb. 8 also found that
although Americans are concerned about terrorism, they rank it behind
the economy and health care as the nation's top priorities. The margin
of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The council commissioned the poll by Hart/Teeter Research as part
of a larger homeland security initiative that included a series of town
hall meetings and will result in recommendations on what government,
citizens and businesses can do to improve the fight against terrorism.
The survey numbers show that the country is making progress,
In polls immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,
for instance, a greater share of Americans, 71 percent, said they feared
terrorists would strike near their home or work. And 47 percent in the
most recent poll said the United States is safer now than on Sept. 11,
up from 38 percent a year after the attacks.
Moreover, three-quarters of Americans said they were very or
somewhat satisfied with the job the government is doing to prevent
terrorist attacks, according to the poll.
Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who
specializes in homeland security issues, said despite the progress,
President Bush and other policymakers should not find much comfort in
the poll results.
"If I were in the White House, I would be worried because the
essence of what I'm arguing is that I am now safer than I was before,"
Daalder said. "The total money that we have spent on the war on
terrorism writ large is well over $200 billion. And if I can't get
people to see that we're safer, that either means that I'm not spending
the money well or my message is not getting out or, in fact, they've
given up. They don't think we can actually do much about it."
The poll found the most feared types of attacks were bioterrorism,
cited by 48 percent of respondents, and chemical weapons, cited by 37
percent. Suicide bombings, a much more commonly employed tool of
terrorists around the world, were mentioned by 21 percent.
While results are mixed, the survey appears to show that Americans
are willing to sacrifice some privacy to strengthen the government's
hand against terrorism.