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  September 23, 2002

Roper Center Magazine Reviews
Public Perspectives on Life After 9/11
By Claudia G. Chamberlain

A year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans appear more worried about the economy and jobs than the threat of another attack, but they also believe life will never return to normal or the way it was before that day.

That is the central conclusion of an analysis of a cluster of polls published in Public Perspective, the magazine of The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

Image: Cover of the Public Persective

The sweeping survey, or "data essay", covers more than 50 specific questions relating to different forms of fallout from the attack, taking a comprehensive look at what the public is thinking, feeling, and publicly expressing since the shocking events 12 months ago.

"The data essay takes what we see as important data to tell the 9-11 story," said Lisa Ferraro Parmelee, assistant director of the Roper Center and the magazine's editor. "We see the larger picture of 9-11 and the months that followed from many different angles."

Sensitive Issues
The surveys were conducted by a number of prestigious polling institutions and covered a myriad of sensitive issues, such as how committed Americans are to the war against terrorism and what means they think are necessary to protect the United States against future attacks.

When asked if Osama bin Laden is alive or dead, 73 percent of the respondents said he is probably alive. The survey was conducted in July by Princeton Survey Research Associates and Newsweek.

In separate polls taken by ABC News and The Washington Post in November 2001 and April 2002, Americans said they believed bin Laden had to be captured or killed to declare the war on terrorism a success. The latter poll, however, reflected a drop to 50 percent, compared with a high of 64 percent in the earlier survey.

In a section of Perspective's data essay called "The Golden Door" relating to immigration policies, 83 percent of Americans in a CBS News and The New York Times poll are reported as saying they felt it was too easy for people from other countries to enter the United States. In addition, 59 percent said legal immigration into the United States should be decreased, a 9 percent increase from a similar poll taken in 1996.

Ability to Predict
In "Not Out of Danger," a survey by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showed that 50 percent of American people in December 2001 had some or very little confidence in the ability of the country's intelligence agencies to anticipate future terrorists' attacks. Repeated by the same polling organizations in June 2002, however, the same question found an even lower confidence level of 59 percent.

In the "What If's and If Only's" portion of the data essay, a poll by CBS News in May revealed that 48 percent of Americans believe that the country's intelligence agencies had information before Sept. 11 that could have prevented the terrorist attacks, compared to 36 percent who said the agencies did not have the information. Some 16 percent said they didn't know.

President George W. Bush, however, continued to earn high marks in the handling of the war or campaign against terrorism, although slipping from a high of 90 percent in December 2001 down to 72 percent in June.

"Another important subject we covered was in the area of civil liberties and whether or not people felt they need to give up some personal liberties to feel safe," said Parmelee.

At the time of the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, half of the public thought it would be necessary for the average person to give up some liberties. As time passed, the percentage declined, she noted.

The figure rose to 63 percent in September of last year, and then began declining again. In June, some 46 percent of Americans thought it was necessary to give up some civil liberties.

According to Richard Rockwell, executive director of the Roper Center and professor of sociology, the data reflect that while the American people are willing to put their civil liberties at risk, they are willing to give them up only in certain circumstances

Scholars are now analyzing data archived at the Roper Center, he said, to try to understand what the people are saying.

Bearing the Burden
The magazine also reports on how residents of New York City are bearing the brunt of the attacks, on the role religion is playing in the crisis, and on the terrorist attacks in comparison to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

According to the article, "Bearing The Brunt," one in every five New Yorkers interviewed said that a relative or close friend was missing, injured, or killed in the attacks; three in five said that an individual in their circle of friends and relatives knew a person who was missing, hurt, or killed. Additionally, 18 percent of those in the labor force reported they had either lost their jobs or a substantial portion of their income as a result of the attacks.

In exploring the impact of the attacks on religion, a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Gallup Organization said that religious behavior by Americans has remained "remarkably stable" during the past year.

"While Americans already attending houses of worship regularly may have added more services and prayers to their schedules, there is little evidence that many others turned to religion after the attacks," the article disclosed. "Americans thought the bigger lesson to be taken from Sept. 11 was that religion has too little influence in the world these days, not too much."

In another area, the assassination of President Kennedy and the Sept. 11 attacks are closely linked in the collective memory of Americans, according to the National Opinion Research Center. But while both tragedies profoundly affected the nation, there were significant differences in emotions and concerns.

"In 1963, the most common feeling was shame that such a thing had happened, followed closely by anger ... After the terrorist attacks, the dominant reaction was anger. This

was followed by worries about how one's own life would be affected and whether anyone was safe," the article said.

The surveys and accompanying articles appear in the September/October issue of Public Perspective, whose audience includes political scientists, government and corporate officials, and executives of polling organizations and foundations.

The online version of Public Perspective is available free to UConn faculty who may wish to assign articles for class reading. For further information contact the Roper Center.