July 11, 2005

Tempered Public Reaction to London Attacks

Summary of Findings

The American public has had a measured reaction to last week’s terrorist bombings in London. Interest in news reports on the bombings is at about the same level as for the Madrid terrorist attacks in March 2004, while concerns over another terrorist attack in this country are somewhat higher than after the Madrid train bombings. And by two-to-one the public rejects the idea that terrorist attacks over the past few years are part of a major conflict between the West and Islam.

President Bush’s approval ratings are somewhat higher than in the past few months. Overall, 47% approve of Bush’s job performance while 46% disapprove. In May and June, more people disapproved of Bush’s job performance than approved.

The latest nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 7-10 among 964 adults, finds that more than six-in-ten (62%) Americans see terrorist attacks over the past few years as a conflict with a small radical group, while 28% say they are part of a broader clash with Islam. However, a sizable number of those who say the attacks represent only a limited conflict today believe it will grow into a major world conflict in the future (25% of the general public).

The survey shows that a quarter of Americans say they are very worried there will soon be another terrorist attack in the U.S., while 44% are somewhat worried. That is the highest level of concern since June 2004 (25% very worried) though much lower than the post-9/11 peak reached in February 2003 (34%), shortly before the start of the Iraq war.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair remains widely popular with the American public. Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) of those familiar enough with Blair to offer an opinion have a favorable view of him. That is unchanged from February 2004, although the percentage expressing a very favorable opinion of the British leader has declined from 43% to 30%. Bush’s favorable rating stands at 53%, largely unchanged in recent months. A survey released last month by the Pew Global Attitudes Project showed that Americans generally express more confidence in Blair than Bush to do the right thing regarding world affairs; 73% of Americans have a lot or some confidence in Blair, while 62% say the same about Bush (see “U.S. Image Up Slightly, But Still Negative: American Character Gets Mixed Reviews,” June 23).

News Interest, Terror Concerns Related

People who paid very close attention to news about the London bombings are twice as likely as those less attentive to say that they are very worried about another terrorist attack in the U.S. (36% very worried, vs. 18%). Those who tracked news on the London attacks very closely also are more apt to describe the terrorist attacks over the past few years as part of a major conflict between Islam and the West.

This same pattern was seen in March 2004 in the aftermath of terrorist bombings in Madrid, Spain. Those who were closely following news about those bombings were more worried about another attack on the U.S. than those paying less attention.