September 5, 2002

One Year Later: New Yorkers More Troubled, Washingtonians More On Edge

I. Americans and 9/11: The Personal Toll

The Sept. 11 attacks affected nearly all Americans in some way. Nationally, two-thirds say the attacks had a great emotional impact on them, and another quarter say it had some effect. Fewer than one-in-ten say the events did not move them much.

Demonstrating the national scope of the tragedy, the emotional impact was only slightly greater in the targeted cities than elsewhere; nearly three-quarters in the New York City and Washington D.C. areas say they were moved a great deal by the attacks. Women felt emotionally affected more severely than men ­ 74% of women nationally say they were moved a great deal, compared to 58% of men, a pattern which was mirrored in New York and, to a lesser extent, Washington.

Where Were You When …

Virtually all Americans (97%) can recall precisely where they were or what they were doing the moment they heard about the attacks. By comparison, in 1999, the Pew Research Center found that, among those old enough to remember, 90% could recall where they were or what they were doing when they first heard about the assassination of JFK, and 85% remembered first hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But the public's historical perspective on the attacks has changed over the past year. In an NBC survey conducted on Sept. 12, fully two-thirds of Americans said the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were more serious than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Today, just four-in-ten (37%) hold this view, while more (43%) say the attacks were about equal in historical importance. Residents of New York and Washington have the same impression as the rest of the nation on this question.

Younger people are the most likely to rate 9/11 as bigger than Pearl Harbor. Among Americans under age 50, four times as many rate the Sept. 11 attacks as more important than Pearl Harbor as say they were less serious (40% to 10%). By comparison, as many Americans age 65 and older say 9/11 was less serious than Pearl Harbor as say it was more serious.

National Impact Greater

While Americans offer that Sept. 11 was a huge event for the nation, relatively few say that their own lives have undergone major changes, and many have experienced other events in their lives over the past year that had a bigger effect on them personally.

Eight-in-ten Americans volunteered the 9/11 attacks had the biggest effect on the nation over the past year. But when asked if they could think of anything that had happened over the past year or so that had a big effect on their own lives, half as many (38%) mentioned the attacks.

That was the leading response, but a quarter (24%) cited a more personal life event such as a marriage, birth, death or health problem in the family, and 30% said nothing major had happened in their lives over the past year or so. Not surprisingly, 9/11 ranked somewhat higher among respondents in New York and Washington, where 51% and 44%, respectively, said the attacks had a big effect on their own personal lives.

Nationally, younger people are somewhat less likely than their elders to rank 9/11 as the biggest event in their lives over the past year. But this is more related to the eventful lives of young Americans than to a muted reaction to Sept. 11. People under age 30 are more likely than those 30 and older to have rated the birth of a child, a marriage, a graduation or a major move as the biggest event in their lives, overriding the importance of 9/11. This pattern was reversed in Washington D.C., where younger people were somewhat more likely to cite Sept. 11 as having the biggest effect on their lives.

Similarly, while half of the nation says life in America has changed in a major way as a result of the terrorist attacks, just 16% say this is the case in their own personal lives. Instead, 49% say their lives are basically the same as before the attacks.

The personal impact of the attacks has been greater in the targeted cities. More than six-in-ten in New York City (61%) and Washington D.C. (63%) areas say the attacks have changed their lives at least a little, compared with 49% nationwide. This sentiment was shared by residents of other large cities. A quarter of people who live in large cities nationwide say their lives have changed in a major way ­ twice the rate found in small towns and rural areas.

Far and away the most common change people refer to in their lives is a sense of fear and caution arising out of the terrorist attacks. When asked to describe how their lives have changed in a major way, nearly half in both cities and the nation offered that they were more afraid, more careful, more distrustful, or felt more vulnerable. A number also cited financial problems or job losses they have faced as a result of the attacks.

But the effects of 9/11 were not all bad. A substantial minority of Americans, including many residents of New York and Washington, said the biggest change in their lives is that they are spending more time with their families, making a point to enjoy life more and to not take things for granted since the attacks.

Emotional Repercussions

Nearly a year later, the attacks are still fresh in the minds of many Americans. A quarter of the public, and four-in-ten in the cities, say they still think about the attacks every day, and a majority in all regions say they think about them at least a few times a week.

For most Americans, Sept. 11 continues to inspire feelings of patriotism and spirituality. Fully 62% say they often feel patriotic as a result of the attacks, while 49% say they frequently think about life in spiritual terms. These feelings are as prevalent in New York and Washington as in the rest of the nation.

But a sizable minority of Americans are still struggling with other, less positive reactions ­ anger and sadness, suspicion and fear, depression and insomnia. These feelings, while widely shared, are especially prevalent among New Yorkers. Three-in-ten people nationwide (31%), and as many as four-in-ten in the New York area, say they often still feel angry as a result of the attacks. A quarter (24%) say they often feel sad; again, a much higher proportion of New Yorkers report frequently feeling sad because of the attacks.

Women are more likely than men to report experiencing these reactions, which has been the case since shortly after the attacks. This is particularly true with respect to feeling sad, scared and depressed. Women also are just as likely as men to say they still feel angry as a result of the terrorist attacks. Despite feeling fewer of these emotional effects, men are just as likely as women to still be thinking about 9/11 regularly, and to feel increased patriotism.

Many New Yorkers are experiencing several of these feelings, adding to their emotional burden. More than four-in-ten New Yorkers say they often experience two or more of the following emotions: anger, sadness, suspicion, fear, depression and insomnia. Roughly a quarter nationwide and in the D.C. area say the same.

Fear Drives Lifestyle Changes

One of the biggest effects on people's behavior as a result of Sept. 11 has been on their family lives. Four-in-ten (42%) say they spend more time close to home and with family, a figure that rises to 57% in New York. Far fewer people have made other major adjustments to their daily lives out of concern about terrorism.

Roughly a quarter of Americans say they have handled mail differently since 9/11, and one-in-five say they have traveled by air less as a result of the attacks. (Of those who say the latter, fully 55% attribute their decrease in flying to their concerns about safety, while just 16% say they are flying less because of the added security hassles.) Other behaviors, such as stockpiling supplies or avoiding travel to certain cities are less prevalent. Just 15% nationwide say they have avoided certain cities since the attacks, and fewer say they have stored up food or water (12%), or stockpiled medications or prescription drugs (4%).

Not surprisingly, worries about terrorism are highly related to these behaviors. Almost half (45%) of those who are very worried that they or their families might become the victim of a terrorist attack say their life has changed in a major way, and 84% say their life has changed at least somewhat. By comparison, 61% of those who have little or no worries about becoming a victim of an attack say their life is basically the same as it was before 9/11.

The minority who have high levels of personal concern about terrorism ­ 12% of the public ­ have changed their behavior dramatically. Seven-in-ten are staying closer to home and spending more time with family as a result of the attacks and half are handling mail differently. A third have reduced their air travel plans and roughly four-in-ten are avoiding certain cities and crowded places. Among those who are very worried, one-quarter have stored up food or water in their home in case of an emergency. Just 7% of those who are not too worried about an attack have done the same.

Closest to Tragedy, Greatest Impact

The impact of the attacks, on emotions and behaviors, has been far greater in New York and Washington, DC. Yet within these cities, there is a stark division between those who were in the downtown areas on the day of the attacks and those who were not. Notably, 59% of New York area residents who were in midtown or lower Manhattan on Sept. 11 knew someone killed in the attacks. By comparison, about four-in-ten New York area residents who were not in the area that day say the same.

In addition, four-in-ten New Yorkers who experienced the attacks first-hand have since lost their jobs or taken a pay cut. Just 11% of New York area residents who were not in midtown or lower-Manhattan on that day say the same, a rate no higher than in the nation as a whole. Similarly, New Yorkers who were in the downtown area on 9/11 are twice as likely as New Yorkers who were elsewhere to be thinking about changing their careers.

These patterns also are mirrored in Washington D.C., where those who were downtown or near the Pentagon on the day of the attacks have experienced a more direct impact than others in the area. More than a quarter (27%) of this group knew a victim, compared with 16% of other area residents. Just one-in-ten Americans nationwide say they knew someone killed or injured on Sept. 11.

Proximity to the attacks also has had an effect on people's behavior, and a lasting emotional impact. In both New York and Washington, it is the people who were closest to the attacks who have become significantly more cautious in terms of handling their mail more carefully, flying less, or avoiding crowded places.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the emotional toll is greatest among those who were near ground zero in Manhattan on Sept. 11. Half of New Yorkers with this experience still think about the attacks every day and one-in-five often feel depressed. As many as 16% often have difficulty sleeping, twice the rate reported by others living in the region and four times as high as in the rest of the nation.

Many Make Emergency Plans

Children as well as adults are struggling with the after effects of the attacks. Among parents with children age 5 to 17 living at home, 44% say their kids have expressed fears about terrorism. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in mid-September, 2001 found similar reporting of fears among children age 5 to 12.

For the most part, parents have dealt with their children's concerns by talking about them. Three-quarters of parents in all regions of the country have made a point to talk with their children about terrorism. But some families have been more active: Fully half of parents in the New York area say they have made special arrangements for their children with family or friends in case of possible emergencies, slightly higher than in Washington D.C. (37%) and the nation as a whole (35%).

Parents who are worried that they or a member of their family might become a victim of a terrorist attack are, not surprisingly, far more likely to have taken precautions. Nearly half of parents who worry a great deal or some about terrorism affecting their family have made emergency plans for their kids in case of an emergency ­ just 22% of parents with less concern have done the same.

These worried parents are also twice as likely to hear worries from their children. Fully 60% of parents very or somewhat worried about terrorist attacks report that their children have expressed such fears, compared with 28% of parents who worry little about such things.

While mothers and fathers appear to be sharing responsibility for talking with their children and making emergency plans, mothers are significantly more likely than fathers to hear their kids express worries about terrorism. Nationally, more than half of mothers of children age 5 to 17 say their kids have expressed fears about terrorist attacks, compared with one-third of fathers.

Patriotism Prevalent

Sept. 11 produced a rise in patriotism across the nation, and this is seen in several ways. While six-in-ten (62%) say they often feel patriotic as a result of the attacks, displays of patriotism such as flags, bumper stickers, and signs continue to be visible throughout the nation.

Feelings of patriotism are particularly prevalent among Republicans and older Americans. Fully 74% of Republicans say they often feel patriotic as a result of the attacks, compared with 61% of Democrats and 53% of independents. Three-quarters of those age 65 and above (74%) also say they feel patriotic, more than other age groups.

Nearly eight-in-ten Americans (78%) say they continue to see a lot of this in their community. These displays appear to be more common in the Midwest and the South than in other regions, including the New York and Washington areas.

In addition to flags and signs, many people (17% nationally) report that some type of permanent memorial to the victims of Sept. 11 has been created in their community. A third of those living in the New York metropolitan area say this has happened, as do a quarter of respondents in the Washington area.

There is little sign of “9/11 fatigue” in the survey. A majority of the public (58%) thinks the country has paid the right amount of attention to the Sept. 11 attacks, and nearly one-fifth (19%) say the event has received too little attention. Just 18% think too much attention has been paid. People who are very worried that they or their family will be harmed in another attack are more likely than others to believe too little attention has been paid to Sept. 11.

Spiritual Thinking

Nearly half of Americans and New York and Washington residents say they often think about life in spiritual terms as a result of the terrorist attacks, making this, along with increased patriotism, one of the most common personal reactions to 9/11. Women are significantly more likely to say this applies to them.

Blacks and Hispanics also are significantly more likely than whites to say they often think about life in spiritual terms as a result of the attacks. Among whites, two-thirds of evangelical Protestants expressed this spiritual reaction, compared to one-third of non-evangelical Protestants, 49% of Catholics, and 16% of seculars.

Heroes of 9/11

The public found the actions of firemen, police officers, and rescue workers in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks to be the most personally inspiring. Pluralities in all parts of the nation, the New York and Washington areas included, cite the bravery of these emergency personnel as most inspirational, with firemen singled out for praise.

As many as 14% name George W. Bush as the most inspiring individual, edging out the ex-mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani (10%). Giuliani is seen as far more inspirational than the president within the New York City area, where 22% cite him as their greatest inspiration. Nationally, more than a quarter of Republicans hold the president's actions in the highest esteem, compared with 8% of Democrats. Interestingly, younger Americans say they were far more inspired by the president than the New York mayor, while the reverse is true among older Americans.

Roughly one-in-ten Americans offer that the actions of all Americans gave them the greatest inspiration. Black and Hispanic respondents are twice as likely as whites to have been inspired by the actions of regular people. Six percent of Americans were most inspired by the actions of passengers on United Flight 93, who fought with hijackers trying to take control of the plane. Another two percent cite victims, survivors, and the families of those who were killed as the most inspirational.