Poll: Confidence in Anti-Terror Response Drops

Loose Nukes

The survey finds particular concern about attacks unlike that on 9/11: While seven in 10 think the United States is doing enough to prevent airline hijackings, fewer than half think enough is being done to prevent car or suicide bombs, or to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear bomb materials or making a so-called "dirty bomb." And far fewer are very confident that nuclear materials here and abroad are being adequately protected.

Considering a range of nuclear materials, Americans are most confident that U.S. nuclear weapons are well-protected from terrorists. But while eight in 10 are confident that these are adequately kept away from terrorists, fewer, four in 10, are very confident of it.

Only a quarter are very confident that nuclear power plants are well-protected, and fewer still are very confident that research reactors and nuclear waste in transit are safe. Americans are least confident that nuclear materials in other countries, including former Soviet weapons, are being adequately protected from terrorists.

Are Nuclear Weapons Secure?
  Confident Very Confident
U.S. nuclear weapons   80%   39%
U.S. nuclear power plants   72   25
University research reactors   61   13
Used nuclear fuel as it's being transported   60   14
Lower-level radioactive med./industrial waste   57   13
Nuclear reactors/nuclear fuel outside the U.S.   45   8
Nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union   42   9

Readiness

About half of Americans, 53 percent, feel they're prepared for a terrorist attack, with a significant difference between women (44 percent feel prepared) and men (62 percent). Some of that could be wishful thinking: Just about one in 10 say they're "very prepared," and indeed most lack some recommended preparedness items, particularly a supply of bottled water and face masks.

Among the recommendations listed at ready.gov, the Department of Homeland Security's Web site, are eight supplies to have on hand in case of a terrorist attack: a first aid kit, three gallons of drinking water and three days' worth of non-perishable food per person, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, face mask, heavyweight plastic bags, and duct tape.

Some of those are ubiquitous: Almost everyone has a flashlight with spare batteries at home, nearly nine in 10 have duct tape, and at least eight in 10 have food supplies, heavy garbage bags and first-aid kits. But fewer, about four in 10, have the recommended amount of bottled water, and just 15 percent have face masks at the ready. (Ready.gov notes that two to three layers of a cotton T-shirt, handkerchief or towel can be used in place of a face mask.)

All told, just 5 percent of Americans have all eight of these items on hand. Excluding face masks (since there's an alternative available), it's 21 percent. Excluding face masks and bottled water, it's 43 percent – still less than half the public.

Thwarting Attacks

Views of the government's anti-terrorism efforts have weakened across the political spectrum, with Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike more likely to say the country is less safe. Democrats are 23 points less likely to say the country is safer now than they were at the beginning of 2004, compared to a still-steep 18-point drop among independents and a nine-point drop among Republicans.

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