AEI: 9/11 Impact On Polling & Beyond genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Beware of...

We tend to take polling for granted and little energy is expended to understand how much influence major events may have over polling in general...and specifically our humanity. If one thinks about it, it does make sense to presume that significant events frequently impact our moods and therefore our perspective on the issues that surround us at any moment in time. The American Enterprise Institute takes a look at the overall impact 9/11 may have on polling subsequent to the tragedy.

Although Americans were resilient after the Sept. 11 attacks, many survey questions suggest the events of that day have left a deep impression on the American psyche. Roll Call contributing writer Donna Brazile captured the feeling when she told the Washington Post this weekend that Sept. 11 "shifted something inside the American people."

This "9/11 hangover" may be contributing to the deep pessimism we see in a range of polling questions today, such as the popular right track/wrong direction question. Why the pessimism? Most Americans expect another attack, and they think the world is more dangerous than ever before.

Responses to many questions about Sept. 11 have changed in the past five years, but one of the questions that hasn’t concerns the likelihood of another terrorist attack.

In an October 2001 Princeton Survey Research Associates/Pew Research Center question, 73 percent said there soon would be another terrorist attack in the United States. In August 2006, 67 percent gave that response.

Pretty fascinating stuff. In essence, we seem to have the same degree of fear in our collective psyche as we did shortly after 9/11. Perhaps that explains why the issue of terrorism has worked so well for the GOP despite the fact that it has been five years since 9/11...and we have not yet experienced another attack. As I thought about it, I had an interesting which many of you will recall.

As a kid, I remember people talking about the frugality of the older generation and the explanation I always heard was that they lived through the great depression and the impact never left them. I also heard the same type of defining observations about those individuals who lived through World War II. So in many ways it makes sense that those who lived through 9/11 will always wear the badge of that fateful day...maybe always having some level of pending doom...some sense that we must always be diligent to prevent another attack.

In a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg question from late July 2006, when people were asked why there had been no terrorist attacks inside the U.S. since Sept. 11, 49 percent said it was because the terrorists were just biding their time. Another 24 percent said it was because U.S. government and intelligence activities had made it more difficult for terrorists to operate here.

In a 2005 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, just 24 percent believed that the war on terror could be won in their lifetimes; 62 percent said it could not.

When asked in July whether the world today is more dangerous than at other times in the respondent’s life, 76 percent told Gallup/USA Today interviewers that it was more dangerous.

It is difficult to determine what to do with this information and even more vexing how one should approach the conducting of a political campaign with this in mind. The psychology of the human mind is far more complex than we care to admit. Nonetheless, life goes on and we're all forced to navigate the newly altered terrain.

Perhaps our ability to cope evolves over time...after all when one looks at Pearl Harbor and the subsequent internment camps; maybe we have made progress in overcoming some of our innate reactions to perceived threats. On the other hand, we also have domestic surveillance, the Iraq war, Guantanamo, the Homeland Security Administration, the terror alert system, and a Party in power that plays the terror fiddle with the virtual ease of a child prodigy.

In the end, we may have to wait to see what the next generation has to say about those of us that lived through 9/11 to fully understand the degree to which we were changed. We can only hope that the historical comparisons demonstrate that our humanity prevailed.

Daniel DiRito | September 6, 2006 | 9:39 AM
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