Americans Seem to Be Taking Terrorism in Stride
The news from Boston over the past couple of weeks has been the stuff of nightmares.
Homemade bombs killing and injuring innocent people at a high-profile public event were followed by a massive manhunt. People in the surrounding suburbs were ordered to stay inside, businesses closed, and SWAT teams overwhelmed a typically quiet community. The Boston police commissioner warned everyone: “We believe this is a terrorist. We believe this is a man that’s come here to kill people.”
When it was over, two out of three voters believed the bombing suspects received support, encouragement and training from terrorist organizations.
One of the more amazing aspects of the story, however, has been the measured reaction of the American people. There was appropriate shock, grief and concern as the news was first reported, but little panic. Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of a horrific and incomprehensible atrocity, the public kept the situation in perspective.
Shortly after the bombing, Rasmussen Reports found that 54 percent of voters still believe economic concerns are a bigger threat to the nation than terrorist attacks. That’s virtually unchanged from the perspective before the Boston Marathon attacks.
Following the bombing, 37 percent believe the United States and its allies are winning the War on Terror. That’s down a few points from before the bombing, but the numbers reflected an ongoing trend rather than a significant change.
That steady perspective is found not because people are ignoring the realities. Seventy-one percent think that another attack is at least somewhat likely in the coming year. Sadly, many have come to accept the fact that there will periodically be similar stories of horror and grief. Only 11 percent think it is possible to make public places completely safe from terrorist attacks like the one in Boston.
These concerns are balanced by a degree of confidence in our nation’s ability to respond. Nine out of 10 Americans believe law enforcement did a good job handling the situation. The media didn’t fare quite as well, but 55 percent thought reporters did a good job keeping the public informed. Given the general public perceptions of the media, that’s practically a ringing endorsement.
The public also is generally comfortable with some of the new technologies being used. The value of video surveillance cameras was on display, as TV outlets repeatedly showed images of the brothers identified as suspects. Eighty-seven percent believe these tools help law enforcement officials. By a 2-1 margin, they also think the use of surveillance cameras make public areas safer.
So far, the public believes that the value of these tools is appropriately balanced against the threats to individual liberties. In evaluating these trade-offs, 28 percent believe our legal system is too concerned with individual rights; 24 percent say it’s too concerned with public safety, and 29 percent believe the balance is about right. It’s hard to imagine a more evenly balanced assessment.
Put it all together, and the picture that emerges is a nation that has grown to accept the reality of terrorism and occasional terrorist acts. It’s also a nation that is moving forward rather than cowering in fear.