In Advance of 9/11 Anniversary, Americans Are Concerned About Terrorism

91% view it as a threat to the vital interests of the United States in the next decade

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 10, 2021

On September 3, I discussed a poll conducted at the end of August by Morning Consult and Politico of 1,997 registered voters. Fifty-five percent of respondents disapproved of President Biden’s handling of immigration (41 percent “strongly”), and 78 percent viewed “illegal immigration” as a critical or important threat to the vital interests of the United States in the next 10 years. As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I should mention that the threat of terrorism also weighed heavily on those polled.

In that poll, more than two in three respondents (67 percent) deemed terrorism in this country to be a critical threat, and an additional 24 percent viewed it as an important threat — 91 percent in total. Just 4 percent of those polled said that terrorism was not an important threat to the United States’ vital interests in the next decade (5 percent did not know or had no opinion).

Further, 87 percent of respondents viewed Islamic extremism as either a critical threat (61 percent) or an important threat (26 percent) to the vital interests of the United States between now and 2031.

ISIS and Islamist terrorist groups in foreign countries were viewed as a threat by 90 percent of those polled, 66 percent viewing them as a critical threat and 24 percent as an important one. Again, just 4 percent responded that ISIS and Islamist terrorist groups in foreign countries were not an important threat.

Note that this does not suggest that Americans believe that all Muslims are extremists, let alone an extremist threat. Estimates suggest that there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, the vast (vast) majority of whom simply want to live their lives in peace with their neighbors.

That said, the September 11th attacks were carried out by, in the words of the 9/11 Commission, “19 young Arabs acting at the behest of Islamist extremists” in al Qaeda and its leader, Osama Bin Laden.

The Commission’s final report details how “the threat of Islamist terrorism grew” throughout the 1990s, from the first World Trade Center bombing in February 1993; to a 1995 plot by Ramzi Yousef (leader of the first World Trade Center bombing) to blow up U.S. airliners over the Pacific; to bombings in Saudi Arabia in November 1995 and June 1996 that killed 24 Americans and wounded hundreds; to the August 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi that killed 224 and again wounded hundreds; to foiled bombings in December 1999 of hotels in Jordan frequented by American tourists and of Los Angeles International Airport; to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

September 11th was the culmination of those efforts, but by no means the last. Statista has a chart showing that 530 individuals were charged with jihadist terrorism in the United States between 2002 and June 2021. It reports that there were 49 Islamist extremist killings in the United States in 2016 alone, a year that saw a spike in such fatalities.

The most notable attack was a bombing at the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, in which brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev planted two bombs near the finish line of the annual race. Three were killed and 264 were wounded, some grievously losing limbs.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police shortly thereafter, but his younger brother was captured, tried, and convicted of 30 separate charges. Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s death sentence was reversed by the First Circuit, but that decision is on appeal to the Supreme Court.

The government asserted in its petition for a writ of certiorari in the case that “an overwhelming amount of other evidence showed that Dzhokhar drew inspiration from radical Islamic propaganda, including from articles in a magazine published by al-Qaeda (Inspire) and from lectures given by an Imam connected to al-Qaeda”.

Poll respondents’ concerns about foreign extremists were not limited to jihadists, however.

Sixty percent of those polled asserted that “white nationalist groups in foreign countries” posed a threat to vital U.S. interests (28 percent described it as a “critical threat”, 32 percent as an important one). “White nationalism” generally was viewed as a threat by 63 percent of respondents (38 percent “critical”, 25 percent “important”).

Although the threat of terrorism has seemingly subsided, and does not appear to have influenced Biden administration policies much (as I noted on September 8, the president’s recent spending request includes a waiver of the terrorist ground of inadmissibility for Afghans brought to the United States), it still weighs heavily on the minds of the American electorate, almost 20 years after September 11th.

Those concerns also appear poised to influence the votes Americans will cast. The poll reveals that “security issues — like terrorism, foreign policy, and border security” are the second leading “top set of issues” that will be on voters’ minds when they vote for candidates at the federal level, including senators and congressmen.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said that such security issues will be foremost in their minds when voting, following just “economic issues” (taxes, wages, jobs, unemployment, and spending), which polled at 32 percent. Among female voters, those economic issues slightly edged out the security ones, 29 to 27 percent.

By comparison, “health issues” were tops for just 12 percent of respondents as a whole when it comes to voting; “seniors issues” for 13 percent; “energy issues” for 5 percent; and “women’s issues” and “education issues” for 3 percent, respectively.

The media may have downplayed the threat of terrorism to the American public and U.S. interests in recent years, and the president has not made responding to it a top priority for his administration. But as the country reaches the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in which 2,977 innocent Americans and citizens of 77 other countries lost their lives, security issues — including terrorism and the border — still weigh heavily on voters’ minds and will influence how they will cast their ballots.