Poll: America, A Changed Country

September 11 anniversary world trade center terror CBS/AP

Americans believe their country is a changed place since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and most are resigned to a permanent threat from terrorism and do not see great progress in achieving many of the goals of the war against terrorism, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll.

The upsurge in government trust seen shortly after the attacks has now completely dissipated, and President Bush's approval ratings - especially on foreign policy - continue to slide back from their historic post-9/11 highs.

Still, while most Americans frequently think about the events of a year ago, most no longer suffer negative psychological effects and have a fair amount of confidence the government can protect them from attack, though most say it could do even more. One thing that hasn't changed is the increase in positive feelings toward New York City, one of the terror targets.

Some 84% of the survey's respondents say America has changed since the terrorist attacks, but opinions are mixed as to whether it is for the better or not.

On one hand, 17% say communities are stronger, 7% say the country is more united, 7% have a greater sense of pride in their country, and 7% say people are nicer and more humble. On the other hand, 25% say the country is more fearful and uneasy, 3% say the economy is suffering, and 2% cite more discrimination and prejudice.

CHANGING VIEWS OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

Throughout the summer, there has been continued slippage in President Bush's approval ratings, even on his handling of the campaign against terrorism and especially on his handling of foreign policy.

Mr. Bush's overall job approval is now 63%, down three points since August, and down 27 points from his historic high last October. But that rating is still well above the 50% approval rating he received before September 11.

More troubling for the president may be that he has lost all of the increase seen in the wake of September 11 in his foreign policy approval rating. At 54% now, it has dropped 14 points since July, and is only slightly higher than his 49% rating before September 11. It had reached 75% in December.

Some 68% now approve of Mr. Bush's handling of the campaign against terrorism, also down from 72% a month ago. Last November, 88% approved.

The economy continues to be the weakest area for the President. 47% now approve of his handling of the economy, unchanged since July, and at about the same as his pre-September 11 numbers.

Mr. Bush's ratings on foreign policy have slipped among Republicans as well as Democrats and independents. 82% of Republicans now approve of how Mr. Bush is handling of foreign policy, down from 92% this summer. The decline among independents has been even steeper, from 66% this summer to 52% now. And just two months ago, half of all Democrats approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling foreign affairs; now just 32% do.

One of the difficulties facing the president in improving the public's assessment of his foreign policy is that a majority of Americans doesn't think that the Bush administration has a clear plan for its fight against terrorism. 52% say the Bush administration does not have a clear plan and is just reacting to events as they occur, while 39% think the Administration does have a clear plan.

Another difficulty is that while majorities of the public think the Bush administration has made some progress in its various efforts to fight terrorism in the past year, few think the White House has made a lot of progress, and most give the administration negative evaluations on improving the U.S. image in the Arab world.

HOW MUCH PROGRESS HAS THE ADMINISTRATION MADE?

The areas in which the administration gets the highest marks are closing terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, and making air travel safe. Eight in ten say the administration has made at least some progress on these two things, and over a quarter say it has made a lot of progress.

Eight in ten also say the administration has made at least some progress in one other critical aspect of the fight against terrorism - developing a comprehensive plan to protect the U.S. from terrorist attacks. However, just 17% say it has made a lot of progress in this.

In addition, while majorities say the Administration has made at least some progress in eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from other countries and putting in a stable government in Afghanistan, fewer than one in ten say the U.S. has made a lot of progress.

The public sees very limited progress in improving the image of the United States in the Arab world. Only 9% say the administration has made a lot of progress here, while 55% say there has been little or no progress.

There are some demographic differences. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the administration has made a lot of progress on all aspects. On most of these items, men are more likely than women to see improvement. Still, majorities of Republicans and men say the Administration has not made a lot of progress in these areas.

TERRORISM: THE CONTINUING THREAT

Americans appear to be resigned to the threat of terrorism. As many say they feel uneasy or in danger from terrorism as say they feel safe. Although they are generally confident in the government's ability to protect them, they are not overly so - and they think the war on terror is going only somewhat well.

Americans are overwhelmingly resigned to having the cloud of terrorism hanging over the country. 90% agree that the nation will always have to live with the fear of terrorism.

Nearly seven in ten Americans think it is likely that another attack will take place. However, that fear appears to be lessening: today 23% describe a new attack as very likely; in June, 36% felt this way and in July, 27% thought it very likely. 28% now feel it is not at all likely, as opposed to just 16% in June.

Most Americans are not overly concerned about an attack where they live. Only 25% say they are very concerned, while 74% say they are not concerned about an attack in their area. These numbers remain essentially unchanged from last winter. People living in large cities are more concerned about an attack in their area than are those living in smaller cities, the suburbs, or rural areas, as are those living in the Northeast.

Americans are split on whether they personally feel threatened by terrorism. 48% say they feel safe, and 50% say they personally still feel either uneasy or in danger. Most believe that there remains a widespread uneasiness in the nation: 79% say their fellow citizens are feeling uneasy or in danger.

The government has inspired confidence that it can protect Americans from future terrorist attacks. Three-quarters say they are mostly confident about this, though only 20% express a great deal of confidence. Still, nearly one-quarter of Americans, 22%, have either not much or no confidence at all.

ASSESSING THE WAR ON TERROR AND THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

Nearly two-thirds say the war against terrorism is going somewhat well -- yet just 12% say it is going very well, and 19% think it is going somewhat badly.

The public sees the war in Afghanistan as stalling out too, and early enthusiasm about U.S. success there seems to have dissipated in the past few months. Now, 14% say the war is going very well, and 58% think it is going somewhat well. While that has changed little over the past four months, earlier this year 40% felt it was going very well and another 49% thought it was going somewhat well.

Osama bin Laden may be at least part of the reason Americans are disinclined to view the war so far as a complete success for the U.S. Just 17% of Americans are very confident the U.S. will capture or kill bin Laden, while 43% think that probably won't happen. Confidence in his capture was much higher last October, but has remained steady over the past few months.

And bin Laden's capture is considered an essential requirement for winning the war. 61% say the U.S. will not have won the war in Afghanistan unless bin Laden is captured or killed. Almost four in five Americans think he is probably still alive.

AMERICANS: CHANGED LIVES

Not only do Americans think that America as a whole has changed, but many say their own lives have changed as a result of the events of September 11. 42% say their lives have changed, while 57% say they have not.

Women (45%) are somewhat more likely than men (37%) to say their lives have changed.

Among those who say their lives have changed, 13% say they re-evaluated their own life, 7% are now more alert and careful, and 6% volunteer they have suffered economically either by loss of income or a job.

The events of September 11 continue to be on the minds of the American public. 34% of Americans think about September 11 everyday and another 28% think about that day every week.

Many Americans are talking about the tragedy as well. 32% say they talk about September 11 with friends and family at least once a week, and half say they talk about it once in while. Just 18% hardly ever or never talk about September 11.

While many Americans are thinking about and discussing the attacks of September 11, some are suffering personal losses. 26% of Americans say they know of someone who was hurt or killed in the terror attacks of September 11 and 7% say that someone was close to them.

Some of the psychological effects the terror attacks had on the American public are affecting fewer people now than before. 24% of Americans have had trouble sleeping at some point since the terror attacks, but only 5% say they are still having trouble sleeping. And 44% have felt nervous or edgy at some point since the attacks but just 16% still feel nervous or edgy.

PSYCHOLOGICAL AND BEHAVIORAL IMPACT

More women than men report having experienced these psychological effects. Over half of all American women have felt nervous or edgy at some point since the terror attacks of September 11, and 20% still feel that way. 35% of men have felt nervous or edgy at some point, while 12% still do.

In addition to the psychological effects of September 11, many Americans made behavioral changes in the weeks since the attacks and many have continued these changes a year later. Half say they watch the news now more than they did before September 11, 31% say they spend more time with their family and close friends, and 13% say they are more likely to attend religious services.

When it comes to air travel, Americans are less jittery about flying on an airplane now than they were in the weeks after September 11. Just 16% of Americans now say they are afraid of flying. This number has been consistently dropping since a high of 25% in November 2001. Half say they are not at all afraid, but three in 10 admit flying bothers them slightly.

While the effects of the terror attacks on America's children have waned some in the past year, 12% of parents say their child still worries about his or her own safety, while another 17% say their child is still worried about the safety of their family.

However, not many parents regularly talk about September 11 with their children. 12% say they talk about it at least once a week, half say they talk to their children about it once in a while, and 36% say hardly ever or never discuss September 11 with their kids.

Although American troops have been fighting the war in Afghanistan for more than ten months, it is a remote war for most Americans. 77% say their everyday lives are unaffected by the war, and 22% say it is having an impact on their lives.

LIVING WITH WAR

Those most likely to say their own lives have been affected by the war include people serving or with a family member serving in the armed forces, African Americans, and those living in the South and West.

A majority finds it useful for the government to issue warnings about possible terrorist attacks on the U.S. 59% say those warnings are useful, 31% are ambivalent, saying they are neither useful nor harmful, and 8% say the warnings are harmful.

However, Americans are split over how the warnings make them feel. 43% say the warnings make them feel mostly secure; but 38% say the warnings make them feel more anxious.

Americans are more likely today to place a lot of blame on U.S. intelligence services for not stopping the September 11 attacks. 24% said they place a lot of blame on the CIA and FBI for the attacks; in May 2002, only 13% said this. Just after the attacks in September 2001, and before any investigations had begun, only 10% blamed U.S. intelligence.

PLACING BLAME FOR SEPTEMBER 11

However, a majority thinks that since September 11, the FBI and CIA have improved their ability to prevent another attack. 58% say they have, 32% say they have not.

Americans are more likely to place a lot of blame for the September 11 attacks on airport security than on the intelligence agencies. One in five put a lot of the blame on U.S. policies in the Mideast.

However, half of Americans believe the government could still do more to make the country secure against terrorist attacks. And when asked if the government has done all it could reasonably be expected to do over the last year, 54% believe it has not, and that it could have done more.

Part of this sentiment is echoed in Americans' fear that the government is not prepared to deal with a biological attack. 70% feel that the government is not adequately prepared to deal with such a threat.

CIVIL LIBERTIES

A majority of Americans are also concerned about losing some of their civil liberties. 64% say they are very or somewhat concerned about it.

Most Americans do say it is very or somewhat likely that Arab Americans, Muslims, and immigrants from the Middle East are being singled out unfairly. While most (57%) believe that Arab Americans are not more sympathetic to terrorists, more than one-third (33%) say that they believe Arab Americans are in fact more sympathetic.

Those who know an immigrant from an Arab country are slightly less likely to believe Arab-Americans are more sympathetic to terrorists.

In the weeks after the September 11 attacks, America embraced New York City, and that love fest has continued. 83% of Americans now say they have a good image of New York City -- unchanged from last September. These numbers are a big improvement from past years. In 1998, only 61% had a positive image of the Big Apple, and just 43% did in 1996.

IMAGE OF NEW YORK CITY

27% of Americans report having visited the World Trade Center in New York City before September 11. Of those, nearly all have a good image of New York.

Public assessment of the state of the national economy remains virtually unchanged since last month. Although half still say the economy is good, just as many now say the economy is in bad shape. Evaluation of the national economy is now worse than it was a year ago.

CONDITION OF THE ECONOMY

The mood of the country remains negative, as it has been since late July. 49% now feel things in this country have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track, while 43% say the country is generally headed in the right direction.

These sentiments are very similar to pre-attack levels. The country's mood received a dramatic boost in the months after the United States began fighting in Afghanistan, but that enthusiasm has largely disappeared.

38% of Americans now say they trust the federal government at least most of the time, but over six in ten say they trust the government in Washington only some of the time or never. Last fall, at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, trust in government rose sharply to 55%. That level of trust in the government has been declining ever since, and is now back to pre-September 11 levels.

HOW OFTEN CAN YOU TRUST THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?

The top reason people trust the federal government is that they think the people in it are trying their best; 14% of those who trust the government at least most of the time say this. Other reasons cited include the view that government is competent; a steadfast belief in democracy; a personal trust of President Bush; and their view of the government's past record.

For those who trust the government only some of the time or never, many said this stemmed from their disagreement with the government over the handling of a specific issue. Other factors leading to mistrust included the belief that politicians were self-interested and sought only personal power; the government's past record in various instances; a belief that government is incompetent; the belief that politicians lie or withhold information; and mistrust stemming from events relating to September 11.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 937 adults, interviewed by telephone September 2-5, 2002. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. Sampling error for subgroups may be higher.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

  • Brian Bernbaum

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