NEW YORK – Five years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, most Americans are confident that air travel is safe and unworried about their area being the target of an attack -- even though a majority thinks members of Al Qaeda live nearby. Overwhelmingly the public believes the war against terrorism is as important or more important today as it was just after 9/11, according to the latest FOX News poll.
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News from August 29 to August 30. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
Americans are confident in air travel today, with fully 78 percent saying it is either very or somewhat safe and 18 percent unsafe. These results are almost identical to the month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; at that time, 78 percent said safe and 19 percent unsafe. The new poll was conducted almost three weeks after British authorities arrested a number of individuals for plotting airline terrorism.
Views are sharply divided on using racial profiling to screen airline passengers, with 48 percent of Americans saying they approve and 45 percent disapprove. Republicans (62 percent) are much more likely than Democrats (40 percent) to approve of using racial profiling in the screening process.
Overall, a 52 percent majority thinks security at U.S. airports is at the right level, with about a third (34 percent) saying it should be tighter and a few (8 percent) that it is too strict.
The public’s views are much more critical on border security. Most (77 percent) think security at the country’s borders is not tight enough, with just 15 percent saying it is "about right" and hardly any (4 percent) "too strict."
"Of course, ‘border security’ is more than just the war on terrorism," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "For different people it may conjure up images of illegals draining social services, migrant farm workers or gang violence in cities."
On the larger issue of terrorist attacks in general, most Americans say they are not concerned about attacks happening in their area. About a third are at least somewhat worried (8 percent "very" and 26 percent "somewhat"), while nearly twice as many say they aren’t (37 percent "not very" and 28 percent "not at all").
These new results are strikingly similar to findings the week after the attacks when a third said they were worried (11 percent "very" and 24 percent "somewhat") and nearly two-thirds not worried (31 percent "not very" and 33 percent "not at all") (September 2001).
Worried Terrorist Attacks Might Happen in Your Area
People living in the Northeast are more likely than those living in other regions of the country to say they are worried about an attack.
Overall, the level of concern about a terrorist attack has gone as high as 43 percent "worried" in October 2001, and as low as 20 percent "worried" in September 2002.
Worries about an attack could be driven by this: Over half of Americans think it is likely that members of the Al Qaeda terror network live in their area, including 20 percent who say it is "very" likely.
Northeasterners are 12 percentage points more likely than those living in the West, 10 points more likely than Midwesterners and 6 points more likely than Southerners to think members of Al Qaeda live near them.
Almost all Americans think fighting terrorism is at least as important today as it was just after the 9/11 attacks. Over half (53 percent) think the war against terrorism is as important now, and another 38 percent think it is more important. Only 7 percent think it is less important.
There is little difference in the responses among partisan groups, as majorities of Republicans (56 percent), independents (54 percent) and Democrats (51 percent) think the war against terrorism is as important today as it was in 2001.
If a terrorist attack were to happen in their area, about half of the public (47 percent) thinks their local authorities are prepared to handle the situation, but almost an equal number think their officials are unprepared (48 percent).
Most Americans seem to realize that if there is an attack or natural disaster, they need to take care of themselves. Fully 89 percent say they are depending on their family and friends to help them and keep them safe if a disaster strikes, compared to 59 percent who say they will depend on local authorities and 56 percent the federal government.
Response to 9/11
The poll shows that half of the public (51 percent) thinks the country’s response to the 9/11 attacks was at the right level, with about a third saying the response was not strong enough. Just 13 percent think the United States overreacted to the attacks.
Republicans (67 percent) are much more likely than Democrats (43 percent) to think the country’s response was right; Democrats (20 percent) are 10 times as likely as Republicans (2 percent) to think the country overreacted.
Opinions are divided on how things would have gone if former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore had been president when 9/11 happened. Essentially equal numbers think it would have been better (34 percent) for the country as think it would have been worse (33 percent) if Gore had been president instead of Bush.
About one in five says it would not have made a difference (21 percent), including 23 percent of Democrats, 22 percent of independents and 17 percent of Republicans
A majority of Americans (55 percent) approves of the job the government is doing to protect the country from terrorism; 36 percent disapprove. About twice as many Republicans as Democrats say they approve.
When asked which party can be trusted to do a better job protecting the country from terrorism, Republicans (37 percent) edge out Democrats (33 percent) by 4-percentage points today. At the beginning of the year Republicans held a 13-point advantage.
Finally, were the September 11 attacks the start of World War III? While some people say yes (26 percent), most Americans think that is an exaggeration (65 percent).