Americans approach the 9/11 anniversary with a lower-than-usual sense that the country is safer today than it was before the terrorist attacks, with the drop-off sharply partisan in nature.
Just 48 percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the country is safer now than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, down from 62 percent two years ago to the lowest (albeit by a single point) level in polling since 2003. Views that the country is safer have fallen by a huge 34 points among Republicans, but also by 17 points among political independents, while holding essentially steady among Democrats.
Similarly, only 44 percent overall express confidence in the government's ability to prevent terrorist attacks, the fewest since 2005. Politics again play a role: Compared to the question's last asking in 2007, when a GOP administration was in power, confidence is down by 32 points among Republicans and a scant 5 points among independents, but up by 18 among Democrats.
Sharp and largely partisan changes in views of the nation's security are not unprecedented. From 2003 to 2005, amid growing disenchantment with the war in Iraq, the sense that the country was safer than before 9/11 fell by 25 points among Democrats and by 22 points among independents, while steady among Republicans.
REFLECTION -- Partisanship steps aside in another result from this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York. Indicating the persistent resonance of that day, 64 percent of Americans say they still think about the events of 9/11 often -- including more than six in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.
Still, time does march on. Thinking about 9/11 overall has eased from its peak. The number who contemplate it "pretty much every day" is down from 40 percent a year after the attacks to 14 percent now. And there's a generational difference: Among adults age 40 and up, 69 percent say they think about 9/11 "a lot." Among those under 40, this declines to 56 percent.
SAFETY -- Men are more apt than women to think the country's safer now, 54 percent to 43 percent. So are those who hold a positive view of the federal government vs. those who see it negatively, by 60 percent vs. 45 percent. (And dissatisfaction with the government, as noted in Tuesday's ABC/Post poll analysis on election politics, is at an 18-year high.)
Indeed, a challenge for the federal government is not only that just 48 percent think the country's safer, but that many fewer, 15 percent, think it's "much" safer than before 9/11 -- down from 25 percent a year ago, but at the same time a number that's never exceeded 29 percent. As much as a criticism of government efforts, that could reflect recognition of the difficulty of the task.
Confidence in government anti-terrorism efforts likewise is muted across groups. Just 41 percent of Republicans and 39 percent of independents express confidence in the government's ability to prevent further terrorist attacks -- but it's also a fairly a tepid 53 percent among Democrats. For Democrats, though, that's a new high in confidence. For Republicans, it's a new low.