Poll: After San Bernardino attacks, American concern about terror threat rises

By Anthony Salvanto, Jennifer De Pinto, Sarah Dutton and Fred Backus

Concerns about Terror and Mass Shootings

Following the shootings in San Bernardino last week, Americans are on the alert when it comes to terrorism in this country. Forty-four percent of Americans think another terrorist attack in the U.S. in the next few months is very likely, a 16 point jump from two weeks ago and the highest percentage since right after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Eight in ten think an attack is at least somewhat likely.

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Terrorism and Islamic extremism have risen dramatically as a concern since the recent attacks in Paris and California. Now one in five Americans volunteer either terrorism generally (14 percent) or Islamic extremism specifically (5 percent) as the most important problem facing the country today, compared to just 2 percent combined in October. For the first time since 2006, terrorism outstrips the economy as the country's top concern.

Americans are slightly more concerned about a homegrown threat than they are about an attack originating from abroad. Sixty-three percent of Americans are very concerned about an attack by people already living in the U.S. who have been influenced by foreign extremists, while 59 percent are very concerned about an attack committed by terrorists entering the U.S. from other countries.

There is less worry about the possibility of a local mass shooting. While over half of all Americans are at least somewhat concerned about a mass shooting in the area where they live, just 23 percent are very concerned, and 47 percent are not very or not at all concerned.

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ISIS and Syrian Refugees

Worries about ISIS have risen. Seven in 10 Americans now see ISIS as a major threat to the U.S., the highest percentage yet recorded by CBS News. Just 11 percent don't see ISIS as a threat at all.

And Americans are more pessimistic about the fight against ISIS than they were before the San Bernardino attacks. While 62 percent of Americans thought the fight against ISIS was going badly after the Paris attacks last month, this percentage has increased to 71 percent now. Just one in four Americans thinks the fight against ISIS is going even somewhat well.

Similar to last month, Americans are evenly divided over whether to allow refugees from Syria into the U.S. after a screening process or whether to keep all Syrian refugees out. Two-thirds of Democrats and just over half of independents favor allowing Syrian refugees to enter with a screening process, while three in four Republicans oppose this.

Gun Policy

Concern about a mass shooting has not increased support for stricter gun laws: the percentage favoring stricter laws has dropped slightly since October. Now 51 percent of Americans think gun laws should be stricter, down from 58 percent. Most Democrats (76 percent) and half of independents (51 percent) think gun laws should be stricter, while most Republicans (59 percent) think they should be kept as they are.

Most Americans who do not own guns also think gun laws should be stricter (64 percent), while most who own guns think they should be kept as they are (50 percent) or made less strict (17 percent).

Fifty percent of Americans think stricter gun laws will help at least somewhat to reduce gun violence, while nearly as many - 48 percent don't think stricter laws will help much. There is greater support for better mental health screening: more than three in four Americans think better mental health screening would help to prevent gun violence, including 45 percent who think it would help a lot.

Few Republicans, 7 percent, are confident that stricter gun laws would reduce gun violence, though most Democrats and half of independents think that would help somewhat. There is greater bipartisan support for better mental health screening.

Support for a nationwide ban on assault weapons has dropped over the past five years, from 63 percent in January 2011 to 44 percent today. For the first time since 1994, more Americans oppose (50 percent) a nationwide ban on assault weapons than favor one (44 percent).

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President Obama

In the wake of the San Bernardino attack, President Obama's job rating for handling terrorism has sunk even lower. Just 34 percent of Americans approve of how President Obama is handling the threat of terrorism, inching below the previous all-time low of 36 percent recorded just last month. Fifty-seven percent now disapprove of his handling of terrorism - a record high. Interviewing for the poll was underway when the President gave his address last Sunday evening.

Nine in 10 Republicans and six in 10 independents disapprove of how the President is handling terrorism, while two-thirds of Democrats approve.

Americans are divided over President Obama's handling of the economy, and his overall approval rating is now at 44 percent - both measures virtually unchanged from last month.

Meanwhile, Americans continue to have a dim view of Congress. Three in four Americans (74 percent) disapprove of the job Congress is doing, including large majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

The ACA, the Economy, Direction of the Country

As the Senate votes to put forward another bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, support for the law - also known as Obamacare - has dropped since June. Then, for the first time since it was passed, more Americans approved than disapproved of the law. Now 40 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove of the ACA, similar numbers to what has been recorded for most of the past twelve months.

Eight in 10 Republicans disapprove -- including 70 percent who disapprove strongly of the Affordable Care Act. In contrast, although seven in 10 Democrats approve of the law, just 39 percent say they strongly approve. A slight majority of independents disapproves (53 percent) of the law.

As they have since the spring, slightly more Americans think the economy is bad than good. Fifty-three percent think the economy is bad, including one in five who thinks it is very bad.

Fifty-five percent of Americans say their family's financial situation is the same as it was two years ago, while 24 percent say it has gotten worse. Just one in five says their family's financial situation has gotten better over the past two years.

Just 24 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction - the lowest percentage in over two years, - while 68 percent think it is off on the wrong track. Americans were more optimistic in November, though current views closely match views two months ago.


This poll was conducted by telephone December 4-8, 2015 among a random sample of 1,275 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News and The New York Times by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

The poll employed a random digit dial methodology. For the landline sample, a respondent was randomly selected from all adults in the household. For the cell sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone.

Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using live interviewers.

The data have been weighted to reflect U.S. Census figures on demographic variables.

The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher and is available by request. The margin of error includes the effects of standard weighting procedures which enlarge sampling error slightly.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

Poll: After San Bernardino attacks, American concern about terror threat rises