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New Report Shows Terrorism is Top of Mind in U.S.

April 15, 2013
Contacts: 

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)COLLEGE PARK, Md. – More Americans think about terrorist attacks than violent crime victimization or hospitalization, according to a new report published by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), headquartered at the University of Maryland. A new study reveals that about 15 percent of those surveyed had thought about the prospect of terrorism in the United States during the preceding week, significantly more than the percentage who said they thought about the possibility of hospitalization (10 percent) or violent crime victimization (10 percent).

Furthermore, almost a quarter of those who said they had thought about terrorism reported that it made them extremely or very worried. 

The survey and resulting report, "U.S. Attitudes towards Terrorism and Counterterrorism," aim to provide baseline information about beliefs and attitudes on terrorism and counterterrorism in the U.S. A research brief on the report is available for download.

"Improved understanding of public attitudes can inform programs and tools related to managing public risk perception, increasing effectiveness of pre-and post-event communication by Federal, state, and local officials, and building and supporting more resilient social networks within and across communities," said Gary LaFree, professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UMD, START director and co-author of the report.

A large majority of respondents said that the U.S. government has been very effective (33 percent) or somewhat effective (54 percent) at preventing terrorism, despite the fact that 69 percent endorsed the view that "terrorists will always find a way to carry out major attacks no matter what the U.S. government does."

The survey also found that clear majorities of respondents were willing to meet with local police or officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to discuss terrorism, data which suggest that community outreach programs may be a viable strategy for countering violent extremism in the United States. 

While the survey highlights the public belief that the U.S. government is addressing terrorism effectively, the study's research team suggests that increased government support for public outreach efforts and community-engagement programs could be beneficial. More than 56 percent of respondents had not heard anything about DHS' "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign, while 85 percent of those who had heard something about the program thought it would be very or somewhat effective. The campaign is designed to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper local law enforcement authorities.

Developed by leading survey methodologists in consultation with experts in terrorism, counterterrorism and community resilience, the survey was completed by 1,576 individuals 18 years of age and older in the fall of 2012. A second survey will be conducted in 2013.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's Resilient Systems Division.