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Back To Normal?

Most Americans say their daily lives have returned to normal or never really changed after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and concern about another attack in the United States is at its lowest level since then. But most think it's still too early to say that either the war against terrorism or the war in Afghanistan has been won.

Just 2 percent think the war against terrorism has been won, and only 29 percent think the U.S. has won the war in Afghanistan. For many people, the goal of U.S. battles in Afghanistan is a personal one - it is about capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, the man believed to have planned the September attacks. Sixty percent think the war will not be won until that happens.

While nearly all those interviewed thought the war was going well for the United States, there is little desire to start winding down. In fact, 86 percent do not think the U.S. should even begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan until bin Laden is found.

The public is still confident that bin Laden will be found - as they have been since September. And nearly all believe that he will be found alive. Only 5 percent believe he is probably dead now; nearly nine in ten say he is still alive. Those who think he is already dead are more willing to declare the war already won.

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Fifty-five percent said their lives changed as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. For most of those people, what changed was their sense of security and personal safety. But in the four months since the attacks, most say their lives have come back to normal.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

 No changeChanged, but back to normalChanged, NOT back to normal





Two other sets of findings in this poll also suggest a return to normal for many people – the reduced fear of terrorism and the increased concern about the economy.

The expectation that there will be another terrorist attack in the United States in the next few months is at its lowest level since the 9/11 attacks. Eighteen percent now think such an attack is very likely, down from a high of 53 percent in October, near the start of the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

 Very likelySomewhat likelyNot likely




 Very likelySomewhat likelyNot likely





Only 22 percent say they are personally very concerned about a terrorist attack in the area where they live, also the lowest percentage since the attacks occurred. Concern continues to be greater in large cities.

And when it comes to pressing issues facing the country, just about as many people worry about the economy as about issues related to war and terrorism. Twenty-eight percent name the economy or jobs as the issue they most want Congress and the president to deal with this year; 27 percent cite terrorism or war or defense. Nothing else comes close.

President Bush continues to get positive evaluations for his handling of the economy – 59 percent approve. While that's still well above his August 43 percent economic approval rating, it is down from the 71 percent he received in the month following the September attacks. Fifty-two percent say the economy is now in good condition, slightly lower than the August figure.

When asked directly about a national return to normal, 55 percent say the U.S. is now ready to return to business as usual. That feeling is less likely to be held by those 65 and older (although this group says they personally were less likely to have been affected directly by 9/11). Forty-two percent don't think the U.S. is ready to return to business as usual, and the return is likely to take some time. Nearly one in four say the process will take longer than just a few more months.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

 YesIn several months or lessIt will take longer






Americans continue to strongly support the war in Afghanistan, as they have since the bombing began three months ago: 89 percent approve of the military attacks led by the U.S. against targets in that country.

One important reason people support the war effort may be that most think it will be effective in fighting terrorism. More than half – 53 percent - think the war in Afghanistan will end up reducing terrorism against the United States. Seventeen percent think the war will lead to more terrorism, and 22 percent think it will have no effect.

And Americans say they would support a U.S. policy of military action against countries that have trained or financed terrorists. Sixty-eight percent think such actions would reduce terrorism against the U.S., and 25 percent think it would not. In a CBS News poll conducted in April 1986, 57 percent thought military action would generally be effective in reducing terrorist acts against this country.

Nearly all Americans think that so far the war in Afghanistan is being waged successfully. Slightly more than nine in ten think the war is going very or somewhat well for the U.S., with 43 percent saying it is going very well. That has varied little in the past three months.

However, the war is viewed as far from over yet. Only 29 percent think that as of now the U.S. has won the war there, and 66 percent say it is too soon to say.

By a sizable margin, men are more likely than women to now see the U.S. as the victor in this conflict – 37 percent of men think the U.S. has won the war, as do 22 percent of women. Those with higher incomes and education are also more apt to say the war has been won.

There have been few Americans casualties in the war, and overall, the pulic thinks the war has been fairly smooth sailing for the U.S. Thirty-six percent think it has been easier than they expected, and 46 percent think it has been about what they expected. Only 14 percent say it has been harder than they thought it would be.

Forty-four percent of men say the war has been easier than they thought it would be; only 28 percent of women say the same.


Almost no one thinks the war against terrorism has been won, however. Only 2 percent think the U.S. has won that war, and 96 percent think it is too soon to say.

But the public is optimistic that the U.S. government will protect them from more acts of terrorism. Eighty-one percent have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in the ability of the government to protect its citizens from future terrorist attacks; that has changed little in the past few months. Sixty-seven percent are confident the government will protect them from terrorist attacks involving anthrax, and 63 percent are confident the government will catch the people who sent anthrax through the mail late last year.


Four in five Americans who have flown in the past two months think airline security has gotten better since Sept. 11. Nevertheless, the public demonstrates strong support for caution on the part of the airlines, even at the potential cost of some people's rights.

One recent example is the public's support for the removal from an American Airlines flight last December of an Arab-American Secret Service agent who was (legally) carrying a gun. The agent believes he was singled out because he is Arab American; the airline contends he did not properly fill out the forms required to carry a gun on board. Seventy-four percent approve of the airline's actions in this case, and 18 percent think the airline went too far.

African-Americans do not share this view as wholeheartedly, although they agree overall. Fifty-four percent of blacks think the airline did the right thing, while 29 percent believe the airline went too far. Among whites, 78 percent support the airline's position and 15 percent do not.

The airline's actions may not have surprised many Americans. Thirty-one percent think it is very likely that Arab Americans, Muslims and immigrants from the Middle East will be singled out unfairly in this country, and 47 percent think this is somewhat likely. Only 19 percent think it is unlikely this will happen. Blacks are especially concerned; 43 percent think this is very likely.


President Bush continues to get overwhelming support from the American public. Mr. Bush's overall job rating is still at a very high level (although not quite at the 90 percent level it reached in early October); now, 84 percent approve of his job as president, while 10 percent disapprove. And nearly nine in ten Americans approve of the way the president is handling the campaign against terrorism.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,060 adults, interviewed by telephone January 5-6, 2002. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points.

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

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