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Report: Security drives political attitudes

/ Source: The Associated Press

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, national security has become the most important issue by far in shaping the public’s political attitudes, overwhelming the role played by economic, social or religious beliefs.

An analysis of public opinion trends released Monday by the Pew Research Center found the shift to national security issues from a collection of domestic issues that were critical in determining party loyalty in 1999.

“Before 9/11, views about government, social attitudes and opinions about the social safety net were most connected to partisanship,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. “Our most recent survey finds opinions about national security dwarfing these vales and all others, including economic and religious factors.”

For example:

  • Three-fourths of Democrats say good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace. A third of Republicans agree with that statement.
  • Just over half of Republicans agree with the statement that the best way to ensure peace is through military strength, while one in six Democrats agrees with it.
  • Two-thirds of Republicans say the use of overwhelming force is the best way to defeat terrorism. In a separate question, two-thirds of Democrats say overwhelming force creates hatred that leads to more terrorism.

Some issues that dipped in importance after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — such as providing health insurance to the uninsured and helping the poor and needy — have started to return in importance to pre-attack levels.

Crime, environment, HMOs decline
Issues that dropped in importance and have not rebounded include crime, the environment and regulating health maintenance organizations.

The economy and jobs have remained important issues over the last five years, while terrorism has remained a top priority ever since the attacks.

Some of the president’s stated goals are not high on the public’s list of priorities. Only a fourth of Americans view passing legislation to limit lawsuit damages as a top priority. A similar number view a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages as a top priority. About four in 10 say simplifying the tax code is a top priority.

The trends are included in a book put out by the Pew Research Center called “Trends 2005.”

The most recent Pew poll of 2,000 adults was taken Dec. 1-16 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.