9/11 Anniversary: A Sense of Security Rebounds

Analysis by Gary Langer ( @langerresearch):

Confidence in the country’s safety from terrorism has rebounded sharply in the past year to near its highs, with most Americans expressing satisfaction with the steps the country’s taken in response to 9/11. But there are two major exceptions: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Overall support for the country’s response is broad, albeit not deep. Sixty-seven percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll are satisfied with the way the United States has responded to the attacks, and 64 percent think the country is safer now than it was before 9/11, up sharply from its low, 48 percent, a year ago.

Still, likely reflecting the continued sense of risk, far fewer think the country is “much” safer – 26 percent – or are “very” satisfied with the U.S. response, 18 percent.

The two boldest and costliest actions taken by the United States, moreover, are controversial. This poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that just 52 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has been effective at reducing the risk of terrorism, and fewer than half, 46 percent, say the war in Iraq made the United States safer from terrorist attack.

Larger majorities, however, say a variety of other actions – from enhanced airport security to increased wiretap and surveillance efforts to the killing of Osama bin Laden this spring – have been effective at reducing the threat of future terrorism.

See full results from the ABC News / Washington Post Poll.

PERSONAL – In personal responses to 9/11, the anger still burns. A decade later, 91 percent of Americans say they feel angry about it, with more than six in 10 “very” angry – a testament to the searing effect of the attacks on the public’s consciousness. Six in 10 still think about 9/11 on a regular basis.

Nearly half say they plan to do something specific to commemorate the attacks this weekend; items mentioned include saying a prayer, watching memorial events on television, attending religious services, observing a moment of silence, lighting a candle, displaying an American flag and gathering with family and friends.

SAFER – Last year’s low in views of improved safety reflected a sharp drop among Republicans, apparently expressing disapproval of President Obama’s work on national security in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. Now – four months after U.S. Navy Seals killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Obama’s orders – these views have rebounded among Republicans, hit a high among Democrats and approached their high among independents.

Indeed Obama, for his part, enjoys a 62 percent approval rating for handling the threat of terrorism, a sharp 19 points higher than his job approval rating overall. It’s not just about bin Laden: Despite questions during the 2008 campaign about Obama’s experience with national security, combatting terrorism consistently has been the best-rated aspect of his job performance.

Another result, though, reflects a darker public mood. While Americans very broadly agree that the events of 9/11 changed the country in a lasting way, they now divide about evenly, 39 to 42 percent, on whether they changed the country for the better, or for the worse. When last asked in September 2002, by contrast, 55 percent said it was a change for the better; earlier that year even more said so, 67 percent. These results, though, came while the war in Afghanistan was still broadly popular, and the invasion of Iraq had not yet occurred.

MEASURES – Eighty-four percent say increased security in airports and government buildings has been effective at preventing further attacks since 9/11, the highest-rated action taken. Seventy-seven percent say killing bin Laden was an effective measure. And these are rated as “very” effective by 40 and 46 percent, respectively.

More than seven in 10 rate other measures as effective: the increased use of wiretaps and other surveillance techniques (77 percent call this effective in combatting terrorism), the use of missile attacks on suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen (76 percent), steps to improve information-sharing among U.S. intelligence agencies (73 percent) and the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (71 percent).

Still, for each of those, far fewer, 26 to 30 percent, say they’ve been “very” effective at reducing the risk of terrorism. And fewer still say the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq have been very effective at doing so – just 14 and 15 percent, respectively.

There are differences among groups, most notably political. Seventy-one percent of Republicans say the war in Iraq was effective at reducing the threat of terrorism, while just 43 percent of independents, and 32 percent of Democrats, agree. (There’s no such gap on Afghanistan.) Republicans also are more attuned to the use of increased surveillance and missile strikes.

And despite their greater general resistance to larger government, 78 percent of Republicans see the creation of the Department of Homeland Security as effective against terrorism. That slips to two-thirds of Democrats and independents alike.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 2011, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points for the full sample. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.

ABC News polls can be found at ABCNEWS.com at http://abcnews.com/pollingunit.

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