Survey: Americans’ main concerns lie in terrorism, economy

As the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, a new poll, conducted with the help of a University professor, shows Americans are concerned, but not obsessed with terrorism.

According to the poll, led by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, 36 percent of those surveyed place terrorism as the United States’ main concern, even though 91 percent called international terrorism a “critical” threat. That number is up 7 percent since 1998.

The economy, education, defense and unemployment rounded out the remaining top five issues for the country.

“What this indicates is there’s a broader picture that people are putting together in their minds of what’s important for this country,” said Christopher Whitney, program director for the CCFA.

The survey, which interviewed more than 3,200 Americans in June, 2002, also showed an increased interest in working cooperatively with world leaders to create foreign policy, and support for using force to fight terrorism, including using U.S. troops to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Seventy-five percent said they favor using U.S. troops to topple the current Iraqi government, while 65 percent said the U.S. should only invade Iraq with “U.N. approval and the support of its allies.”

University political science professor Larry Jacobs agreed.

“The idea of the U.S. going it alone is being rejected,” he said. “Americans don’t want to police the world alone.”

“The biggest message of the survey is that Americans are turning outward. They have become more interested in the world.”

The survey found 92 percent of the public fully approved of the use of military troops to “destroy a terrorist camp.”

On working with its allies and other nations, 61 percent responded the U.S. should work more closely with other countries, including signing more treaties and alliances.

A similar poll conducted in six European countries indicated that 60 percent would support an American invasion of Iraq, but only with the support of its allies and the United Nations.

Whitney said the survey indicates the American public is aligning its attitudes with rest of the world when it comes to the policing of world issues.

Europeans also said international terrorism is a top concern, but only 65 percent rated it as critical.

Jacobs, a McKnight professor, added that the survey findings indicate Americans are becoming more interested in and aware of foreign policy issues since Sept. 11.

The poll reveals double digit increases in the percentages of Americans who are “very interested” in news about other countries; U.S. relations with other countries and national news.

They are at the highest levels ever recorded in Council surveys since they began in 1974, jumping 13, 17 and 15 percentage points respectively between 1998 and 2002.

The survey, which officials called the most comprehensive study on U.S. attitudes towards foreign relations, has been conducted every four years since 1974. Officials say the number and depth of poll questions make it the most comprehensive.

The full reports on the findings from both the U.S. and European studies, along with a comparative report, will be released in early October, Whitney said.