WASHINGTON — Most Americans think a terrorist attack on a train, bus or subway in the United States is inevitable, but there's no evidence they are any more fearful about their own safety after the London bombings, an AP-Ipsos poll found.
Public approval of President Bush's handling of terrorism and foreign policy ticked up slightly after the attacks in England renewed focus on the president's strongest issue — fighting terrorism. But his overall job approval rating remains in the doldrums — at 42 percent in the AP-Ipsos poll taken Monday through Wednesday.
Almost six in 10 Americans, 57 percent, say they think a terrorist attack on a bus, train or subway will occur at some point, while just over a third say such an attack can be prevented.
People in rural areas were more likely than those in the suburbs or cities to think such an attack on the transit system is certain — a somewhat surprising result given the focus of possible terror attacks in cities.
Fewer than four in 10 say they worry that a terrorist attack could victimize them or members of their families — the same number that said that a year ago. Women, especially suburban women, were more likely than men to worry about their families as victims of terrorism. And those who make less than $25,000 a year were more likely than those with higher incomes to worry about terrorism.
"I think people are becoming rather hardened to the idea of another terrorist attack," said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion specialist at the American Enterprise Institute. "There's a core of people who worry about it, but the numbers have remained remarkably stable over the last couple of years."
Less long-term gains
The president's poll standings have often improved when the public's attention returned to terrorism and away from other concerns like Iraq and the economy. But Bowman said Bush is less likely now to get a long-term gain in the polls.
"It is still Bush's strong suit, but given all the other things going on now — Iraq, the economy and other matters — he's not going to get much of a boost on terrorism," Bowman said.
Just over half, 51 percent, say they approve of Bush's handling of foreign policy and terrorism, up slightly from June and the highest rating in that area since March.
"At least he's trying to deal with it," Karen Gutowski, a 49-year-old Republican from Hobe Sound, Fla., said of Bush's efforts to fight terrorism.
Consumer confidence over the past month slid to a two-year low. Economists say terrorism fears rekindled by the London bombings, which killed more than 50 people, probably played a large role in the decline, according to Ipsos polling done this week for the Royal Bank of Canada.
Bush's overall job approval ratings remain as low as they have ever been since the AP-Ipsos poll was started in December 2003. The president's job approval was at 42 percent — essentially the same as last month.
Almost six in 10 Americans say the country is headed down the wrong track, about the same level of pessimism Americans have had all year.
"I think we should have done more earlier about the terrorism problem," said Peggy Williams, a Democrat from Owensboro, Ky. "I feel like this country has allowed these people in and more or less just handed them the opportunities to do this to this country. We just served it up on a silver platter."
Despite fears that a terrorist act is inevitable at some point in this country, many people say they won't let such concerns affect their daily lives.
"I'm mainly doing the best I can to do my part by not changing my day-to-day life," said Michael Hammer, a chef in Chicago, who leans Democratic. "I take the train every day. I think another terrorist attack is inevitable in this country, that's just the way it is."
The poll of 1,000 people was conducted for AP by Ipsos, an international polling firm, July 11-13 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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