The federal government continues to get positive marks for efforts to reduce the threat of terrorism, but many Americans say luck is a big reason why the United States has not suffered a major attack at home since Sept. 11, 2001.
About seven-in-ten (69%) say the government is doing very (15%) or fairly well (54%) in reducing the threat of terrorism, numbers that have changed only slightly since January. Still, 30% say the ability of terrorists to attack the U.S. is now greater than it was on 9/11, while 41% think it is about the same. Just a quarter (25%) say the ability of terrorists to attack is less now than it was in 2001. These numbers also are little changed since the start of the year.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 13-18 among 2,251 adults, finds that the public continues to be divided over why there has not been another terrorist attack since 2001; 43% say it is mostly because America has been lucky while nearly as many (37%) say it is mostly because the government is doing a good job protecting the country. Another 13% say America is a difficult target for terrorists. These numbers have shown little change in recent years.
Currently, nearly half (47%) say the government’s anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough to protect the country, while about a third (32%) say those policies have gone too far in restricting civil liberties.
Since January there has been a decline in the percentage saying the government’s anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough in protecting the country. At that time, shortly after the failed Christmas Day attack on an airliner, 58% said the government had not gone far enough in protecting the country, more than double the percentage saying it had gone too far in restricting civil liberties (27%). Just two months earlier, in November 2009, 40% said the government had not gone far enough in national security, while nearly as many (36%) said it gone too far in restricting civil liberties.
Partisan Shift in Anti-Terror Ratings
Democrats are now more likely than Republicans to say the government is doing very or fairly well in reducing the threat of terrorism. Fully 84% of Democrats give the government positive ratings compared with 64% of Republicans.
During the Bush administration, the partisan gap was reversed. In February 2008, 84% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats expressed positive views of the government’s anti-terror efforts; the partisan differences were even larger (46 points) in January 2007.
Independents’ views of the government’s performance in reducing the threat of terrorism have shown less change since the Bush administration. Currently, 62% say the government is doing very or fairly well, compared with 70% last November and 64% in February 2008.
There also have been partisan shifts in other attitudes and perceptions related to terrorism. Currently, 50% of Republicans mostly credit luck, rather than effective government policies (37% of Republicans), for why there has not been another attack since 2001. Among Democrats, 44% say it is mostly because of government policies while about as many (35%) say it is because the country has been lucky so far.
In August 2006, a majority of Republicans (58%) said the United States had not suffered another terror attack mostly because of government policies, while 54% of Democrats said this was mostly because of luck. Again, independents views have changed less with the change of administrations – currently 44% say the absence of attacks since 2001 is mostly because of luck while 31% mostly credit government policies. In 2006, 40% said it was mostly because the country has been lucky and 33% said it was mostly because of government policies.