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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). [1]

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. [2] An extraordinary 70% said that they had "cried" in response to the September 11 attacks according to a CNN/USA Today poll. [3]
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…might 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.[4]

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." [5]

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).[6]

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).[7]

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).[8]

  Mar.1993 Apr.1995 Apr. 1997 Aug.1998
Worry 28% 35% 35% 47%
Don't worry 71 64 64 52%




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