Poll: Americans Feel Safer

Spot the American products advertised at this Berlin intersection near Checkpoint Charlie. CBS / Christine Lagorio

The public thinks the success of U.S. military action in Afghanistan will likely curb threats of terrorism against America, and expectations of another terrorist attack are at their lowest level since September 11th. According to a CBS News poll most also think this success may encourage the U.S. to intervene militarily elsewhere in the future. The public approves of doing so against Iraq, a potential target, but wants the U.S. to get the support of its allies before taking military action.

IS IRAQ NEXT?

Since President George W. Bush named Iraq as part of the "axis of evil," along with Iran and North Korea, speculation has increased about whether Iraq is the next target in the war on terrorism. While many Americans believe Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power, they also think the U.S. needs support from its allies before it wages any military action against Iraq.

Three-fourths of the public approve of the U.S. taking military action against Iraq to try and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Only 18% feel the U.S. should not take such action.

U.S. MILITARY ACTION TO REMOVE HUSSEIN?
Approve 74%
Disapprove 18

Most Americans also believe Iraq currently has weapons of mass destruction, despite public denials by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Eight in 10 think Iraq is in possession of such weapons. Only 11% do not believe the country has weapons of mass destruction.

But even though Americans do not have a favorable view of Iraq, 72% want the U.S. to get the support of its allies before taking action against that country. 22%, however, feel that Iraq presents such a clear danger to American interests that the U.S. needs to act now, even without allied support.

ACTION AGAINST IRAQ
U.S. needs to act against Iraq now 22%
U.S. should wait for support from allies 72

THE IMPACT OF MILITARY SUCCESS

Over seven in ten Americans think it is likely the success of the war in Afghanistan will curb terrorism in the U.S., while a quarter believe this is not likely to happen.

LIKEL U.S. SUCCESS IN AFGHANISTAN WILL CURB TERRORISM?
Very likely 22%
Somewhat likely 50
Not likely 24

The public also thinks this success will prompt the U.S. to intervene elsewhere in the future. Nearly 9 in 10 think it is likely the U.S. will use military force somewhere else.

LIKLEY U.S. SUCCESS WILL PROMPT INTERVENTION ELSEWHERE?
  • Now
    Very likely 44%
    Somewhat likely 44
    Not likely 8

  • Persian Gulf 3/91
    Very likely 27%
    Somewhat likely 49
    Not likely 19

    After its success in the Persian Gulf War, expectations of U.S. military involvement in other countries were lower than they are today. In March 1991, 76% of Americans thought the U.S. would intervene elsewhere. One in five did not expect further U.S. military intervention, over twice as many as think so now.

    Americans think that the war against Afghanistan could become part of a much larger conflict between Western countries and Muslim countries. 71% think it is very or somewhat likely that the fighting in Afghanistan could spread to a larger war, and 24% think this is unlikely. This has not changed since December.

    LIKELY WAR COULD SPREAD TO WEST VS. MUSLIM COUNTRIES?
    Very 25%
    Somewhat 46
    Not too/not at all 24

    LISTENING TO ALLIES

    The public doesn’t dismiss the views of America’s allies when considering U.S. actions. When it comes to foreign policy in general, a majority – 63% - thinks the U.S. should take into account the views of America’s allies before taking action. 29% think the U.S. should do what it thinks is right regardless of what its allies think.

    FOREIGN POLICY
    U.S. should take into account allies’ views 63%
    U.S. should do what it thinks is right 29

    If another nation is planning to use weapons against the U.S., 67% of the public say actual evidence of such a plan is needed in order to justify military action against that country. One in five, however, say that only a suspicion –- and not actual evidence -- is needed to justify a military attack. Only 8% say military action is not justified.

    WHEN SHOULD THE U.S. TAKE MILITARY ACTION?
    When it has evidence 67%
    When it is suspicious 19
    Military action not justified 8

    THE WAR AND OSAMA BIN LADEN

    87% of the public now approves of the military attacks against Afghanistan – unchanged since the start of the attacks in October.

    Despite conflicting reports as to where he may be hiding out, 82% now think Osama bin Laden is probably alive, compared to only 12% who think he’s probably dead. In early January, somewhat more – 88%- thought he was alive.

    The number who think Osama bin Laden will be caught has declined since December. Even though a majority of Americans – 64% - are confident that bin Laden will be caught, nearly a third are not confident. Back in December, 78% thought he would be caught.

    CONFIDENT THAT U.S. WILL CAPTURE/KILL BIN LADEN
  • Now
    Very 22
    Somewhat 42
    Not too/not at all 33

  • 1/26/02
    Very 29%
    Somewhat 44
    Not too/not at all 25

  • 12/01
    Very 37%
    Somewhat 41
    Not too/not at all 21

    However, 59% of Americans still do not believe the war in Afghanistan will be won unless bin Laden is captured or killed. 32% say the war can be considered won regardless of bin Laden’s capture.

    AMERICANS AND ISLAM

    Americans say they now know more about Islam than they did before September, but they are divided in their feelings about the religion. More than half of the public says they now know more about Islam, and 41% say they know the same as they did before September.

    Overall the country is split in their impression of Islam. 33% say they have an unfavorable view of the religion, and 30% have a favorable view. 37% were unable to express an opinion.

    VIEW OF ISLAM
  • Now
    Very/somewhat favorable 30% 14%
    Somewhat/very unfavorable 33 22
    Don’t know enough 37 64

  • 1993 L.A. Times Poll
    Very/somewhat favorable 14%
    Somewhat/very unfavorable 22
    Don’t know enough 64


    TERRORISM AT HOME

    The expectation of another terrorist attack in the U.S. is at its lowest level since the attacks of September 11th, although a majority still thinks an attack is likely in the next few months. 62% now say a terrorist attack in the U.S. is very or somewhat likely, while 34% say an attack is unlikely. In early October, 85% of Americans thought a terrorist attack in the U.S. was likely to occur.

    LIKELIHOOD OF ANOTHER TERRORIST ATTACK IN U.S.?
  • Now
    Very likely 18%
    Somewhat likely 44
    Not likely 34

  • 1/02
    Very likely 23%
    Somewhat likely 48
    Not likely 25

  • 10/01
    Very likely 53%
    Somewhat likely 35
    Not likely 10




    This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 861 adults, interviewed by telephone February 24-26, 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.

    • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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