WASHINGTON - Half of Americans think there's a high risk of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, yet only a third are closely following news of U.S. airstrikes against Islamic extremists in the Middle East.
Most people do think the airstrikes are a good idea. Two-thirds of those questioned for an Associated Press-GfK poll say they favor the offensive by the U.S. and allies. And, despite, more than a decade of costly war, about one-third favor going beyond that and putting American military boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria.
President Barack Obama says he has no plans to send ground troops to either country. A little more than a third say they are opposed to the idea, and about one in four say they neither favor nor oppose it.
That's thousands of miles away. What about concern at home?
According to the poll, most think there's a high risk of a terrorist attack inside the United States, 53 percent, though just 20 percent call it an "extremely high risk." An additional 32 percent say the nation is at moderate risk of a terrorist attack and 12 percent say it faces a low risk of terror attacks.
The poll has not asked that specific question in the past. However, the finding tracks with Pew Research Center data from July indicating that concern had ebbed somewhat since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
This summer, the Pew survey said 59 percent of Americans were "very" or "somewhat worried" that there would soon be another terrorist attack in the United States. That's lower than the 73 percent that Pew found were concerned, following 9/11, that another attack was imminent and about the same as the 58 percent who were worried about another attack after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
There hasn't been a massive terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.
Those in the AP-GfK survey are split on whether they approve of the way Obama is handling the threat from terrorism and specifically the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also called ISIL). About half approve and about half disapprove of Obama's actions to confront the threat. Still, those figures are better than Obama's approval ratings for handling top domestic issues. Just 40 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 41 percent approve of his work on health care and 34 percent approve of the way he's handling immigration.
Douglas Dowden, 49, a native of San Diego who now lives in central California, said he thinks the threat from ISIS is overblown. He doesn't support Obama's decision to launch airstrikes.
"How many terror threat attacks happen in countries like say Spain, Italy, the U.S.? It's not that often. I have more fear of what some whack job locally is going to do - that's more of a concern to me than some potential threat from some extremist group," Dowden said.
Dowden is among the 37 percent surveyed who said they were following news about the airstrikes "somewhat closely." About 32 percent of those surveyed are paying close attention to the military action, and 30 percent say they're barely monitoring the U.S. military action.
"I'm really not following it. There is so much terrible news and I'd rather follow the domestic news than the foreign news - but I still am interested in what's going on," said Betty Masket, a 91-year-old retired government health science administrator from Chevy Chase, Maryland. "I really feel sorry for Obama. I think he's doing the best he can."
Keith Fehser, 55, a commodities trader from suburban Chicago, says Americans need to see terrorism as an extremely important issue, yet they don't.
"I just think it's only going to get worse," Fehser said. "Even though the government tries its best to keep on top of it, it's just lunacy out there with what can be done by just small groups of people."
He said most people he talks with don't care much about the U.S. airstrikes on Iraq and Syria. "It's a long way away. As long as we're not letting our own people get killed, I don't think they care that much," he said, adding that he would be "very disgusted" if American combat troops were sent back to the region.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.