Introduction and Summary

The public’s worries over terrorism have declined since mid-October, despite government warnings of new attacks and recurring anthrax incidents. But this decrease in concern is not being felt uniformly across the country, and is not associated with greater confidence in the government’s ability to deal with the terrorist threat. If anything, Americans are expressing somewhat less confidence in the war on terrorism both at home and abroad.

The new nationwide survey of 1,000 adults by the Pew Research Center, conducted Oct. 31- Nov. 7, finds a widening gap in concern over future terrorist attacks between people living in major cities on the East and West Coasts versus the rest of the country. Fully half (50%) of coastal urban residents are worried that they or their families could become victims of terrorism, compared with 38% of Americans living elsewhere. These findings represent a significant decline in concern in the heartland since Pew’s Oct.10-14 survey, compared with a more modest decrease in coastal urban areas.

Americans are rating anti-terrorism efforts less favorably than they did previously, even though they feel less threatened personally. While most continue to give the government positive evaluations in its struggle against terrorism, the percentage who give the highest rating to anti-terrorism efforts has fallen from 48% to 35% since mid-October. Similarly, just 30% say the military’s effort to destroy terrorism is going very well, compared with 45% in the Oct. 10-14 survey.

This month’s poll finds lower evaluations of anti-terrorism efforts most apparent among older people, especially older women. Ratings also declined among people in heartland areas of the country, who had previously given government efforts slightly better evaluations than did residents of the costal cities.

Gender Gap Widens

For the first time since attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. concerns over terrorism are approaching pre-Sept. 11 levels. In the current survey, about one-in-ten Americans (13%) say they are very worried about being victimized and roughly a quarter (27%) say they are somewhat worried. This is nearly the same as in July 1996, when 13% were very worried, 26% somewhat worried.

The gender gap in terrorism concerns, evident in previous Pew Research Center polls, has widened a bit even as the public’s fears have subsided. Half of all women say they are very or somewhat worried over possible new attacks, compared with 30% of men. In mid-October, the gap stood at 15 points (57% of women expressed concern, 42% of men). As in previous surveys, minorities express more concern than do whites that new terrorist acts will affect them personally.

The number of Americans reporting feelings of depression as a result of the terrorist attacks, which peaked at 71% in mid-September, has declined steadily and now stands at 24%. But while most Americans say they are at least starting to get back to normal, one-quarter say they are not yet feeling back to normal, which is unchanged over the past month.