Oct. 20 — Despite news of additional anthrax cases in the United States and overseas, a new NEWSWEEK poll shows few signs of panic among the American public. In fact, while a majority of Americans expect new terror attacks, personal safety concerns have dropped to their lowest levels recorded since the Sept. 11 assaults.
MAJORITIES OF AMERICANS say it is at least somewhat likely that large numbers of people will die in future terrorist attacks, either through the use of conventional explosives (74 percent), anthrax mailings (57 percent), smallpox or some other disease (55 percent), according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll.
A clear majority (63 percent) of the public now attribute anthrax attacks throughout the world at least in part to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. Most Americans (51 percent) suspect that that 100 or more people connected to bin Laden or the September attacks are still at large in the United States. People also tend to assume that thousands (45 percent) or tens of thousands (17 percent) of individuals in bin Laden’s network are at large around the world.
Nonetheless, Americans express unrelenting optimism and less fear for their personal safety. Very few people (15 percent) say that life in the United States has permanently changed for the worse since the terrorist attacks and recent anthrax cases. In fact, more than half (52 percent) think that life will not only return to normal, but will actually improve. By a lopsided margin of 71 percent to 25 percent, people are more likely to express optimism than pessimism about the future of the economy.
In last week’s NEWSWEEK poll, more than one-third (37 percent) of adult Americans said they were feeling somewhat or a lot less safe where they live and work because of the Sept. 11 attacks. This week, just one-quarter (24 percent) say they feel personally less safe. And 67 percent say they are very or somewhat confident that national and local governments are prepared to deal with new terrorist threats, up from 56 percent one week ago. Americans also continue to rally around President Bush, giving him an 88 percent approval rating. The same number say they approve of the recent military action against terrorism now underway in Afghanistan.
Americans also support a bigger role for government in combating terrorism. Many people want to see more government resources committed to improving airline security, with 55 percent favoring the use of tax dollars rather than imposing surcharges on airline tickets, as a better way to pay the costs of putting sky marshals on flights.
In foreign policy, a narrow majority of Americans (52 percent) believe that the United States should not distance itself from Israel in order to reduce the threat of terrorist acts. A larger majority (62 percent) say changing America’s relationship with Israel would do nothing to lessen the threat of attacks.
For the NEWSWEEK poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates interviewed by telephone 1,006 adults aged 18 and older Oct. 18-19. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. This NEWSWEEK Poll is part of the Oct. 29 issue (on newsstands Monday, Oct. 22).
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