Terrorism Fears at Low Ebb Seven Years after 9/11

Poll: concerns about terrorist attack in U.S. subside to lowest since '97.

September 10, 2008, 12:01 PM

Sept. 11, 2008— -- Seven years after 9/11, concerns about a major terrorist attack in this country have subsided to their lowest since 1997, while ratings of the U.S. campaign against terrorism have improved from their subdued level the last two years.

Apprehension about terrorism remains widespread; 64 percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll are concerned about the possibility of another major attack. But that's down 10 points from two years ago and near the low in polls back 13 years.

Click here for a PDF with charts and full questionnaire.

High-level worry, in particular, is notably down -- 18 percent express a "great deal" of concern about another attack, compared with 25 percent this time last year, 30 percent in summer 2005 and a high of 49 percent the night of 9/11 itself.

The absence of another attack and the passage of time from 9/11 may be playing a role; so too may better assessments of the situation in Iraq.

Fifty-two percent say the United States is making significant progress restoring civil order there, up from 40 percent last spring to the most in the past four years, save for a blip immediately after the capture of Saddam Hussein. Six in 10, nonetheless, still say the war was not worth fighting.

All told, 62 percent of Americans say the U.S. campaign against terrorism is going well, up from a low of 52 percent in early September 2006 (and 54 percent at this time last year).

That's still well down, though, from its high, 88 percent in early 2002, in the early days of the invasion of Afghanistan. And the endorsement is far from full-throated; just 14 percent say U.S. anti-terrorism efforts are going "very well."

Sixty-two percent also think the United States is safer from terrorism now than it was before 9/11, about the same as last year but up from just 50 percent in 2006. Again, though, many fewer -- 25 percent -- think the country is "much" safer.

9/11, Terrorism and the 2008 Presidential Election

In election terms, the Iraq war and the U.S. campaign against terrorism run far below economic concerns as the public's single top voting issue.

As the economy's worsened the past year it's rapidly supplanted Iraq: A year ago 11 percent called the economy their No. 1 concern, vs. 35 percent who said it was the Iraq war. Now those numbers are reversed: 41 percent economy, 10 percent Iraq.

Six percent cite terrorism as their single greatest concern.

These issues do differentiate the candidates.

Registered voters prefer John McCain over Barack Obama by 20 points, 56-36 percent, to better handle terrorism -- McCain's single biggest advantage on any of 10 issues tested in this poll -- and by 17 points, 54-37 percent, to handle an unexpected major crisis. On personal attributes McCain, given his military background, has a 45-point advantage as the better commander-in-chief.

McCain holds a 10-point edge, 51-41 percent, in trust to handle the Iraq war, his best improvement on any issue after his nominating convention. Previously he and Obama were even on Iraq.

Views on the U.S. campaign against terrorism are very highly partisan.

Eighty-seven percent of Republicans say it's going well, and 83 percent say the country is safer now than before 9/11. Among Democrats these shrink to 49 and 45 percent, respectively, with independents between the two extremes.

Still, the partisan gap on U.S anti-terrorism efforts is narrower now than at its widest in September 2006.

That's because positive assessments of the campaign against terrorism have improved by 20 points among independents and 16 points among Democrats.

METHODOLOGY: This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 5-7, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,133 adults, including an oversample of African Americans (weighted to their correct share of the national population), for a total of 211 black respondents. Results have a 3-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for a PDF with charts and full questionnaire.

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