As the nation commemorates the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans have mixed views on the danger posed by terrorism and on the government's response to such threats. With conditions in Iraq improving and economic concerns diverting attention from foreign affairs, the public now says it feels safer at home and better about the war on terror abroad than it has in years.
Despite a new report concluding that the U.S. is still vulnerable to an attack using weapons of mass destruction, a growing number of Americans express confidence in their safety. In a new ABC News/Washington Post survey [PDF], nearly two-thirds of respondents said the nation is safer now than it was before the attacks, up from a low of 49 percent in August 2005. A 60 percent majority in a new CBS News poll called it unlikely that the U.S. will experience another attack in the near future. And Gallup pollsters found that just 38 percent of adults surveyed worry that a member of their family will become a victim of terrorism, down from a high of 59 percent in October 2001.
The Bush administration, however, gets mixed reviews. When asked if President Bush's policies have succeeded in protecting the U.S., half of CBS' respondents maintained that this commander in chief has made the country safer, but 23 percent argued that he has had no effect, and 21 percent said Bush has actually made America less safe. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey found that 3 in 5 respondents believe there would not have been any repeat attacks on U.S. soil after Sept. 11 regardless of who was in the White House.
As for the administration's larger strategic response -- the war on terrorism -- surveys suggest that Americans have a somewhat rosier view than they did just last year. ABC/Post pollsters found that 62 percent of respondents now say the campaign is going fairly well or very well, up 8 points since last year.
Perhaps the main reason for this newfound optimism? Public perception of the war in Iraq seems to have turned a corner. Fifty-two percent of those polled by ABC/Post now report that the U.S. is making significant progress in Iraq, up from 40 percent in April. According to CNN/ORC, a majority of Americans are now willing to call the war "an essential part of the U.S. efforts against terrorists" -- up 8 points since August 2006. And while respondents were still split 45-45 on whether the Iraq war has made the country safer, that represents an improvement from November 2006, when a 56 percent majority called it detrimental to the country's safety.
The government recently announced a shift in its tactics to hunt down one of the men responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks -- Osama bin Laden. But Americans don't seem convinced that the U.S. will eventually capture or kill the al-Qaeda leader. Forty-nine percent of CNN/ORC respondents called it at least somewhat likely that bin Laden will be brought to justice; however, just 36 percent of CBS respondents said the same.
Going forward, CBS shows that a 52 percent majority of respondents believe that the government is adequately prepared to handle another terrorist strike on U.S. soil, up 13 points since last September. But as voters head to the polls in just eight weeks, Americans seem to have significantly more confidence in one presidential candidate to take the reins of the war on terror: Six in 10 respondents told Gallup pollsters that they have more faith in John McCain to protect the country from terrorists, while just 34 percent preferred Barack Obama.
She Is The Wind Beneath His Wings
McCain has an even bigger political advantage than his strength on national security: Sarah Palin. In three recent polls -- from Diageo/Hotline, ABC News/Washington Post and CBS News [PDF] -- McCain's running mate bested the approval ratings of her Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden. In the ABC/Post poll, she even matched Obama's popularity.
But much of that support comes from within her own party: While Diageo/Hotline pollsters found that more than 80 percent of Republicans view the Alaska governor favorably, not even 2 in 10 Democratic respondents do. Independent voters fell about evenly in the middle; just under half in the Diageo/Hotline and CBS polls said they approved of the governor.
The numbers suggest that Americans are at odds over how to assess Palin, being unimpressed with her level of experience but relating to her nonetheless. Fewer than half of the respondents in the CBS poll said that she has the experience to be vice president, compared with the 7 in 10 who called Biden prepared. However, a full 60 percent said that they could relate to Palin, while only 40 percent said so of the Delaware senator.
While Palin may be winning over some key voter blocs, such as women, she has already had a much more tumultuous relationship with the media. Voters are clearly taking notice: Fifty-four percent of respondents in the CBS survey said the media has been harder on Palin than the other candidates. Voters may get a better glimpse into Palin's life tonight when ABC News airs Charles Gibson's coveted interview with her.