In the post-9/11 world, the public judges a variety of U.S. efforts as effective ways to reduce the threat of terrorism. But the two biggest and most costly – the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – are seen as the least effective.
Seven in 10 or more Americans say that efforts ranging from enhanced airport security to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security have been effective in fighting terrorism in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The public is much more ambivalent about large scale wars however. Barely half, 52 percent, say the war in Afghanistan has been effective at reducing the terrorist threat; almost as many, 46 percent, say it has been ineffective. Reactions to the Iraq war are slightly more negative, with 53 percent saying it has not been effective against 46 percent who say it has.
The Iraq war is especially polarizing. Twice as many say it was very ineffective as say it was very effective, 31 to 15 percent. Fully 71 percent of Republicans rate the war as effective. For their part, Democrats and independents are much less sure of its effectiveness; just 32 and 43 percent of each rate it that way.
The war in Afghanistan is less politically divisive. Small majorities of independents and Republicans call it effective, slipping below half among Democrats. There are significant gender gaps for Iraq and Afghanistan with men more likely than women to rate each war as effective in fighting terrorism.
Other initiatives focusing on security, surveillance and targeted military efforts are seen as far more effective in reducing terrorism as full scale war. Fully 84 percent see increased security at airports and government buildings as effective, 40 percent very effective. Nearly as many, 77 percent, endorse the effectiveness of the wiretapping and surveillance techniques ushered in by the Patriot Act.
The targeted killing of Osama bin Laden elicited the most intensity with 46 percent saying it was very effective and 77 percent at least somewhat effective. Another 76 percent rate Predator drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen as effective.
Just over seven in 10 rate as effective the improved information sharing among U.S. intelligence agencies and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Across all these efforts, Republicans generally see anti-terrorism efforts as more effective than Democrats or independents. That’s especially true for wiretaps and surveillance, a controversial program instituted by the Bush administration, but seen as effective by 93 percent of Republicans.