On the eve of the ten year anniversary of 9/11, the Pew Research Center has released new data on Americans’ reaction to the attacks, and the foreign and national security policies pursued in the post 9/11 era. They show a country with views that have evolved on the relationship between civil liberties and the tools given to government to fight terrorism, and a disbelief that the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan helped to lessen the chance there will be another terrorist attack on the United States.
The Pew survey showed a large shift in the number of Americans who are willing to see some of their civil liberties go out the window in the name of fighting terrorism. Directly after 9/11, Americans were willing to make the deal, as 55 percent thought it was necessary, against 35 percent who felt the opposite. Now, only 40 percent felt that giving up some civil liberties is necessary to curb terrorism, with 54 percent against.
That result is coupled with a split on the overall causes for terror attacks against the United States: after 9/11, only 33 percent thought the attacks might have been at least partially the fault of US wrongdoing versus 55 percent who rejected that idea. Now the question is nearly split amongst Americans, with 43 percent saying the negative effects of American policies may have been to blame against 45 who take issue with that assumption. But in any case, Americans continue to think the government is doing well in reducing the threat of terrorism: 88 percent thought the government was doing very well or fairly well after 9/11, and that percentage remains high at 76.
The real break Americans have is with foreign policy after 9/11, specifically the decision to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. “…only about a quarter say the wars in Iraq (26%) and Afghanistan (25%) have lessened the chances of terrorist attacks in the United States,” the Pew report reads. “In both cases majorities say the wars either have increased the risk of terrorism in this country or made no difference.”
And while a majority of Americans in the Pew poll are now against lessening their civil liberties for the cause of fighting terrorism, a large majority are “at least somewhat concerned about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S.” There is a split on whether or not Americans in general view US Muslims as supporting extremism: 40 percent think either “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of their fellow citizens who happen to be Muslims support Islamic extremism, versus 45 percent who believe US Muslims are sympathetic. Pew recently released data on the opinions of US Muslims that show they actually have the same concern — the survey found that 60 percent of US Muslims were themselves concerned about Islamic extremism within the country. But that data also showed that only a little over one-fifth of US Muslims thought there was much support for extremism within their own community.
Read the whole Pew report here.
The Pew survey used live telephone interviews with 1,509 Americans conducted from August 17th to the 21st. The data has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.