September 11, 2017

About a fifth of Americans cite 9/11 response as event that made them most proud of U.S.

A firefighter stands outside the FDNY Engine 10, Ladder 10 station near the September 11 Memorial site in New York City on Sept. 11, 2016. Services were being held to remember the 2,977 people who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A firefighter stands outside the FDNY Engine 10, Ladder 10 station near the September 11 Memorial site in New York City on Sept. 11, 2016. Services were being held to remember the 2,977 people who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

About one-in-five Americans cite the country’s response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the time in their lives when they felt most proud of their country, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in summer 2016.

The survey, a collaboration between the Center and A+E Networks’ HISTORY, asked U.S. adults in an open-ended format to name the times or events during their lifetimes when they felt most proud of and most disappointed in the United States.

The most commonly cited moment of pride – volunteered by 19% of respondents – was the national response to the 9/11 attacks. Those who cited the 9/11 response offered a range of specific reasons for feeling proud, including the bravery of first responders and the way the nation united in the event’s aftermath, as well as the outpouring of sympathy for the victims of the attacks. (Other responses to the attacks, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the killing of Osama bin Laden, were counted separately in the survey.)

Overall, the survey found that the Sept. 11 attacks united Americans in a way that few other historical events have. About three-quarters of Americans (76%) named the attacks as one of the 10 events in their lifetimes that had the greatest impact on the U.S., a far larger share than for any other event, including the tech revolution, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the moon landing. Regardless of gender, income or education level, or partisan affiliation, majorities of U.S. adults cited the 9/11 attacks among the 10 events that had the greatest impact on the country.

The lasting impact of the attacks on Americans is evident in other ways, too. In a survey conducted in August and September 2016, 91% of U.S. adults said they remember exactly where they were when they heard news about the attacks. Even among Americans who were between the ages of 3 and 13 when the attacks occurred, 83% said they could remember exactly where they were.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans rallied around President George W. Bush. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted shortly after the attacks, Bush’s approval rating hit a high of 86%, a rating exceeded in recent presidencies only by the 89% approval rating recorded by his father, George H.W. Bush, following the Persian Gulf War in early 1991.

Topics: Terrorism, National and Cultural Identity

  1. Photo of John Gramlich

    is a writer/editor at Pew Research Center.