Poll: Public Wants More Police Power

Oct. 10, 2001 -- Eight in 10 Americans support giving the police authority to stop and search people who fit the profile of a suspected terrorist. And security concerns are running high enough that a narrow majority say they'd even support fully random stops and searches.

But specifically targeting Arabs and Muslims is less popular, a new ABCNEWS poll finds. Most Americans oppose police stops of Arabs and Muslims at random, and a much larger majority says being Arab or Muslim should not be an important part of the profile of a terror suspect.

In the poll, 55 percent oppose giving the police powers to stop and search "anyone who appears to be an Arab or Muslim, at random." It reflects today's jitters that the rest, 42 percent, do support such police authority.

Support for random police stops of "any person" is higher, 52 percent — another indication of the level of concern about the risk of terrorism. Most acceptable by far are stops of "any person who fits the profile of a suspected terrorist," favored by 83 percent.

Support for random stops and searches is highest among people who are especially worried about future terrorist attacks. And jitters certainly exist: Eight in 10 Americans express worry about further attacks against the United States. But fewer than four in 10 express a "great deal" of worry, and that has declined since Sept. 11, the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Concerns About Profiling

The profile of a suspected terrorist can contain many components, such as having had contact with terrorist groups. This poll tested two others, one based on speech — "expressing support for terrorists' goals" — and one based on ethnicity or religion — "being Arab or Muslim."

The former is a far greater concern. Sixty-five percent of Americans say that expressing support for terrorists' goals should qualify as "an important part" of the profile of a suspected terrorist. Far fewer, 27 percent, say that being Arab or Muslim should be an important part of that profile.

An additional 24 percent say that being Arab or Muslim may be part of the profile of a suspected terrorist, but only as a secondary factor. The largest group, 45 percent, says it should not be part of such a profile at all.

Many Americans, but still far from most, say last month's terrorist attacks have made them personally more suspicious of people who appear to be of Arab descent. Thirty-eight percent say they're more suspicious of Arabs, compared to 43 percent in an ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll two days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Logically, people who say they've become more suspicious of Arabs are far more likely than others to support police stops of Arabs or Muslims at random, and to say being Arab or Muslim should be a central part of the profile of a suspected terrorist.

By contrast, people who are Muslims or say they personally know a Muslim — 41 percent of Americans — are much less likely to support random police stops of Arabs or Muslims. They're also less likely, by 18 points, to express suspicion of Arabs as a result of the terror attacks.


This ABCNEWS poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 8-9 among a random national sample of 1,009 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Field work was done by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.

Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.