The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More Americans say 9/11 changed U.S. for worse than better, Post-ABC poll finds

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Americans increasingly say the events of Sept. 11, 2001, had a more negative than positive impact on the country, and predictions for the pandemic’s long-term impact are even more downbeat, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Saturday, more than 8 in 10 Americans say those events changed the country in a lasting way. Nearly half (46 percent) say the events of 9/11 changed the country for the worse, while 33 percent say they changed the country for the better.

That represents a shift from 10 years ago when Americans were roughly divided on this question, and it marks an even larger swing from the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002. Back then, 55 percent said the country had changed for the better.

Americans’ perceptions of safety from terrorist attacks are also at a low ebb, with 49 percent saying the country is safer from terrorism today than before 9/11 — one percentage point from the record low of 48 percent reached in 2010, and down from 64 percent in September 2011, four months after Osama bin Laden was killed.

Partisans differ on whether the U.S. is safer from terrorism today than before 9/11, with 57 percent of Democrats saying it is, while 54 percent of Republicans say it’s less safe. Independents are closer to Democrats on this question, saying by 52 percent to 38 percent that the U.S. is safer rather than less safe.

The Post-ABC poll also finds about 8 in 10 Americans think the coronavirus pandemic will change the country in a lasting way, with more than twice as many expecting it to change for the worse rather than better, 50 percent vs. 21 percent.

Pessimism about the pandemic’s impact is widespread, though it peaks on the ideological right. Conservatives are among the most concerned groups, with 62 percent saying they expect the pandemic to change the country for the worse, compared with 47 percent of moderates and 44 percent of liberals. Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to predict the pandemic will make the country worse (56 percent vs. 42 percent).

Opposition to mask requirements and other pandemic restrictions likely explains part of the negative outlook among conservatives and Republicans. Among the roughly 6 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who oppose school mask mandates, 69 percent believe the pandemic will change the country for the worse, compared with 48 percent of Republicans who support mask requirements.

Read full Post-ABC poll results and how the survey was conducted

The ideological split is reversed in views of the 9/11 attacks, with nearly 6 in 10 liberals saying the events changed the country for the worse (59 percent), compared with 44 percent of moderates and 45 percent of conservatives. Liberals have grown much more negative on this question since 2011, when 42 percent said the attacks changed the country for the worse.

The latest Post-ABC poll overlapped the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan along with the evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans and allies in just over two weeks. In results released Friday, 36 percent of Americans said the Afghan war was worth fighting, while 54 percent say it was not. Those who say the war was not worth fighting are also more likely to say Sept. 11, 2001, changed the U.S. for the worse (53 percent), compared with those who say it was worth fighting (37 percent).

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 29-Sept. 1 among a random national sample of 1,006 adults, with 75 percent reached on cellphone and 25 percent on landline. Overall results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.