Global Issues >> Terrorism
Emotional Response to Sept. 11
An overwhelming majority of Americans has had a
strong emotional response to the September 11 terrorist attacks,
with nearly all Americans saying that they have followed the
story closely and a strong majority saying they wept or felt
depressed in response to the events. Substantial minorities
reported trouble concentrating and sleeping. Fears and concerns
about the possibility of terrorist attacks-which had been
rising over the last decade--showed a sharp upward movement,
higher than the response to earlier events, such as the Gulf
War or the Oklahoma City bombing.
A nearly unanimous 96% of Americans said they had followed
news about the terrorist attack very (74%) or fairly (22%)
closely. This is a more intense level of attention than Americans
gave the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia (69% very
closely) or the beginning of the Gulf War (67% very closely).
Forty-six percent said they were "reading newspapers
more closely," and 81% said they were "keeping the
TV or radio tuned to the news" (Pew, Sept. 13-17). 
In the same Pew poll, Americans reported feelings of depression
from the events at levels that considerably exceed those reported
at the start of the Gulf War. Seventy-one percent answered
"yes" when asked "Have you yourself felt depressed
by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon?"; only 27% answered no. (In January 1991, only
50% reported depression.) Forty-nine percent said they had
had difficulty "concentrating on [their] job or
normal activities," and 33% said they had had trouble
sleeping. (In January 1991, these figures were only 8% and
7% respectively.) Sixty-nine percent said they were "praying
more" since the attacks. 
An extraordinary 70% said that they had "cried"
in response to the September 11 attacks according to a CNN/USA
Today poll. 
Up to a fifth of Americans say they are directly affected
by the attacks-in the sense of knowing someone missing, hurt
or killed. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 16% said they
had been worried that a "family member or a friend
have been a victim"; another 17% said they had an acquaintance
who had been directly affected in this way. Twenty percent
told Pew that they, or a friend or relative, knew someone
missing, hurt or killed in the attacks.
A quarter or so of Americans said they might alter travel
plans. Twenty-four percent said they were "considering
canceling an airplane trip," and 21% said they were "considering
canceling a trip to a major city." 
The sense of personal risk from a possible terrorist attack
is (understandably) fairly high. Thirty-nine percent said
"yes", and 59% said "no," when asked "Would
you say personally are very concerned about a terrorist attack
in the area where you live, or not?" in a September 13-14
CBS/New York Times poll. (When the question was reasked a
week later (September ), the level of concern had dropped
slightly to 32% yes, 66% no.) Forty-five percent were worried
that they or a family member "might become the victim
of a terrorist attack"; 27% were very concerned and 44%
somewhat concerned that "terrorists will commit acts
of violence near where you live or work" (NBC/Wall Street
Journal, September 15-16). Sixty-three percent said their
"own personal sense of safety" had been shaken "a
great deal" (31%) or "a good amount" (32%)
(Los Angeles Times, September 13-14). Likewise, 63% said they
felt "a lot less" (12%), "somewhat less"
(24%), or a "little less" (27%) safe as a result
of the attacks (Newsweek, September 13-14).
This represents a distinct rise in anxiety over the recent
past-although Americans have not felt complacent about their
safety from terrorism in recent years. In February 1998, at
a time of high tension with Iraq, 66% said that they "personally
are very concerned about a terrorist attack in the US";
only 20% said they were "somewhat," and 13% that
they were "not" concerned (CBS/New York Times).
In August 1997, asked "How much confidence do you have
that your own community is safe from terrorism?" only
33% said "a great deal"; 46% said "some,"
and 19% said "none" (CBS).
On four occasions in the 1990s, respondents were asked about
whether they worry about terrorism when they are in public
places. Between 1993 and 1998 this question showed a gradual
rise in anxiety (see note for table's details).