October 4, 2001

Americans Open to Dissenting Views on the War on Terrorism

September 11 Shock Slow to Recede - 42% Still Depressed

Introduction and Summary

The American public is beginning to recover from the shock of the terrorist attacks – but it still has a long way to go. As many as 42% report that they have felt depressed in recent days because of the events of September 11, 21% say they continue to have difficulty concentrating on work, and 18% say they are having trouble sleeping. All three indicators of psychological stress were markedly higher in the Pew Research Center survey of two weeks ago, when 71% reported depression, 49% concentration problems and 33% insomnia.

There are many signs in the latest survey suggesting that the public continues to be very unsettled. Nearly three-in-four (73%) Americans are worried about another attack – and about one-quarter (28%) say they are very worried. People who are the most concerned about repeated terrorism are more likely to show signs of stress, such as depression and sleeplessness. Biological or chemical attacks are the public’s greatest concerns – 37% say that is what terrorists are most likely to do next, compared with just 3% who expect another attack with airliners. However, fear of flying is strong enough that 10% of the public is considering canceling a trip by air or has already done so. While that percentage is small, it potentially represents as many as 19 million airline passengers.

Heavy media use is another indicator of a public that is still very much on edge. About as many Americans are paying close attention to the news about the attacks now as in mid-September (73%). While fewer are keeping radios and televisions tuned to news about the attacks, 67% are still doing so. Half say they are reading papers more closely, and three-in-ten are checking the Internet for news updates.

The public continues to rate the news media highly for its coverage. Most like the amount of terrorism coverage they are seeing, while one-third (32%) feel news organizations are overcovering the story. News of how the attacks were carried out is attracting the most news interest, but most aspects of the story are engaging majorities of the public, except news of the refugee crisis in Afghanistan.

Americans are comfortable with the extraordinary unity the country has demonstrated in the wake of the attacks, but they also show considerable tolerance for dissenting views. The public has little discomfort with the widespread expressions of patriotism and religious expression – just 8% say there has been too much showing of the flag, 10% believe there has been too much playing of patriotic songs, and 12% say the expressions of religious faith and prayer by politicians have been excessive. On the other hand, about seven-in-ten (71%) are open to allowing peaceful protests of military action, and even more (75%) say the media should air the views of those who feel U.S. policies were to blame for the terrorist attacks.

Continuing Concerns

While some Americans are regaining emotional equilibrium, many are still feeling after-shocks and are worried that the attacks are not over. Most (73%) worry there will be another terrorist attack soon and that worry has a profound effect on their emotional well-being and behavior.

Those who are worried about another attack are much more likely to feel depressed and angry – and to have trouble sleeping and concentrating – as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Of Americans who worry a lot about another attack, nearly two-thirds (62%) still feel depressed three weeks later (compared with 28% of those who are not as worried about another attack); 40% still have trouble concentrating on their normal activities; and nearly four-in-ten (37%) say they have had trouble sleeping during the past few days because of their feelings about the attacks.

Overall, 57% of Americans say they are praying more now, down from 69% in the immediate aftermath of the attacks (Sept. 13-17). But among those who are worried about new terrorist attacks, 63% are praying more, compared with 41% of those who are not as worried.

During the first few days after the attack, women reported a significantly higher level of emotional stress than did men (see the Pew Research Center’s “American Psyche Reeling from Terror Attacks,” Sept. 19, 2001). That gap is somewhat narrower in the current survey, although women still are more likely than men to say that they have been depressed during the past few days (49% of women, 33% of men). The dominant emotion among members of both sexes is anger. Better than seven-in-ten Americans (72% of both men and women), have felt angry about the attacks during the past few days. Americans in the Northeast, where the attacks occurred, are no more likely to feel upset now than are those in other regions.