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American preoccupation with 9/11 attack has waned

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: March 03, 2004

Two-thirds of Americans think about 9/11 less than once a day, marking a sharp decline in preoccupation with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a new poll.

Meanwhile, only 1 in 6 Americans believes the war against terrorism is the nation's most important issue, according to a survey of 1,013 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University. Terrorism, which ranked far behind the economy as top concern, is being challenged for second place by worries over health care and education.

"Life in America, in many ways, has returned to normal. And that's positive," President Bush concluded Tuesday in a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. "We must never forget the day when the terrorists left their mark of murder on our nation. We will remember the sorrow and the anger."

But the survey found that such feelings are cooling.

Support for U.S. action to combat international terrorism has dwindled significantly in recent months. Some 43 percent of respondents answered "not enough" when asked if "the United States has done enough to fight international terrorism." That marked a 14-percentage point drop from a similar poll conducted in June 2002.

In the latest survey, 45 percent said the American response to terrorism has been "enough" or "too much," up from 33 percent in June 2002. Twelve percent of respondents said they were undecided or offered other answers in the latest poll, as did 10 percent in the 2002 poll.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents in the latest poll said the economy was their top concern, 17 percent picked the war on terrorism, 15 percent named concerns about health care and 14 percent cited the need to improve the quality of education. All other issues were in single digits.

Terrorism was by far the top concern immediately after 9/11 and continued throughout most of 2002, according to a series of surveys conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Even a year after the attacks, terrorism was the No. 1 issue for 29 percent of the nation.

But worries about the economy had overtaken terrorism fears by last May and have steadily remained the top issue since, according to the polls.

Very few Americans believe they would be personally harmed in any future attack. Respondents in the latest poll were asked: "How likely do you think it is that you personally will be the victim of a terrorist attack?"

Five percent said they think it's "very likely," 24 percent put it as "somewhat likely," 68 percent deemed it "unlikely" and 3 percent were undecided.

The poll found that 9 percent report thinking about the attacks at least "several times at day." That's down from 56 percent in a poll conducted the month after the attacks. Americans who said they think about the terrorism less than once a day has risen from just 10 percent the month after the attacks to 66 percent in the latest poll.

The latest survey was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Respondents were interviewed Feb. 15-29 by telephone. The poll was funded by a grant from the Scripps Foundation.

All the polls cited in this report have a margin of error of 4 percentage points, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within each poll. For more survey results, go to www.newspolls.org.