WASHINGTON – Why do Americans think there has not been a terrorist strike in the U.S. since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? The answer largely reflects the political party of the person asked, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Eighty-nine percent of Republicans said actions by the U.S. government are a major reason there has been no follow-up attack, according to an Associated Press-GfK Poll. Democrats were more skeptical, with 53 percent crediting federal activity.
Seven in 10 Republicans but just one in five Democrats rated the war in Iraq a major factor in preventing another attack. The party breakdown was similar regarding the impact of the war in Afghanistan.
Those questioned were given seven possible explanations for the lack of a strike, and Republicans were likelier than Democrats to call five of them major deterrents: federal activities, the war in Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, state and local efforts, and vigilance by ordinary Americans. In addition, roughly one in four from each party said help from foreign governments and the possibility terrorists haven't tried launching assaults were major factors.
Overall, the clashing partisan viewpoints underscored how Republicans are likelier than Democrats to back Bush administration policies.
"They've beefed up homeland security, they keep track more of security at airports," Dana Reid, 30, a Republican from La Grange, Mo., said of federal actions. "They may have made life harder for people, but in the long run they've made it safer."
Democrat Kathy Givner, 53, of Los Angeles, said that while the government has probably intercepted terrorists' messages, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not helpful at all.
"I think it's created more terrorists," she said.
President George W. Bush often linked Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks, but the independent Sept. 11 commission called that unfounded. Bush stopped, but he still depicted the late Iraqi leader as a terrorist threat.
The conflicting partisan perspectives come as terrorism and the Iraq war have become second-tier concerns to most Americans, well behind the economy, polls show. Republican John McCain has a big lead in many surveys over Democrat Barack Obama as the presidential candidate most trusted to handle terrorism, and has a smaller advantage on Iraq.
McCain has used his campaign to emphasize his national security experience. Obama has accused the Bush administration — to which he links McCain — of helping al-Qaida grow stronger by focusing on Iraq instead of Afghanistan, which terrorists have used as a base.
In the AP-GfK poll, more from each party considered action by the U.S. government a major factor in preventing an attack than any other explanation. Overall, 64 percent cited the U.S. government as a major reason; no other choice reached 50 percent.
A lack of effort by terrorists and help from foreign governments were each called major reasons why there's been no attack by 28 percent, the lowest scores of any alternative.
The Iraq war and the possibility terrorists haven't been trying drew the greatest numbers of doubters, with about a third overall saying neither was a reason there has been no attack.
Here again, partisan differences were sharp. Forty-seven percent of Democrats and just 8 percent of Republicans said the Iraq war had nothing to do with preventing attacks in the U.S., while 28 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans scoffed at a lack of effort by terrorists to attack the U.S.
The poll also found:
—Independents were closer to Democrats than Republicans in whether they credited the U.S. government and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with preventing an attack.
—Six in 10 Republicans and four in 10 Democrats considered the vigilance of American citizens a major factor.
—Fifty-four percent of Republicans and 35 percent of Democrats credited efforts by state and local law enforcement as major deterrents.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 5-10 using calls to cell and landline telephones. There were 516 responses to the terrorism question, for which the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.