In the wake of the attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, new polling suggests that Americans consider terrorism to be the greatest threat to the United States.
In a poll released today, an estimated one in six Americans identify terrorism as the most important problem in the country — surpassing runner-ups including the government, the economy, and guns. This is a 13-percent jump from November, suggesting that recent terror incidents are registering largely on the American consciousness.
The new Gallup poll was conducted via telephone to a random sample of 824 Americans and was especially influenced by the San Bernardino attack — the first of five days of polling was conducted on the day of the attack. While quite lower than the 46 percent of Americans who considered terrorism the most important problem in the U.S. following 9/11, this is still the highest percentage of Americans to mention terrorism as a leading problem in a decade.
However, while a higher number of Americans considered terrorism to be the most important U.S. problem following 9/11, perceptions of the government’s ability to protect them has greatly changed. After the attacks on the World Trade Center, 88 percent of Americans said they had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence that the government could protect them from terrorism.
Now, a new low of 55 percent of Americans believe the federal government can protect them. Regardless, the number of Americans who are worried that they or their families will become victims of terrorism has virtually been unchanged since 2001.
Coming in fourth of the most important U.S. problems was the issue of guns, clocking in at only seven percent, seemingly indicative that the American people aren’t connecting with President Barack Obama’s message that the issue of guns and terrorism are intertwined. On his December 6 Oval Office address, the President said:
“We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino. I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology.”
Issues with the government and the economy have historically overshadowed American’s problems with guns — after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, which occurred three years ago today — only six percent of Americans claimed guns were the biggest problem in the country.