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Poll: Terror Fears On The Rise

Fear of another terrorist attack on the U.S. has risen in the last month - and most Americans would support unilateral action against a country that appears to be planning an attack on the U.S., as well as C.I.A. involvement to try and overthrow a country unfriendly to the U.S.

There is also concern about terrorists' use of a nuclear device and that the risk of nuclear war has increased. Perhaps that explains the public's view that suspected terrorist Jose Padilla poses a real threat to the U.S., and that his arrest is not merely a political move by the Bush Administration. Most Americans are satisfied that Padilla is being handled by the military.


National fears of another terrorist attack are at their highest point since last October. Now, 36% think another terrorist attack against the U.S. is very likely, and another 45% think it is somewhat likely. Last month, 25% thought another attack was very likely.

Twenty-nine percent are personally concerned about a terrorist attack in their area, also up from recent months. The greatest concern is felt by those living in big cities, who are nearly twice as likely as those in the rest of the country to be worried.


Americans support a first strike (though not a nuclear one) against a country that is planning to use weapons against the U.S.; 83% say the U.S. would be justified in doing so, while 9% say it would not be.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls





And nearly half say they would let the President make the decision to take military action without the approval of Congress. 47% think the President should be able to make the decision to do that himself, while 49% think he should have to get the approval of Congress in order to take such military action.

However, the public won't go as far as authorizing a nuclear response. 65% say the U.S. would not ever be justified in using a nuclear weapon first against another country; 25% say the U.S. would be justified in doing so. 73% trust Bush to make the right decisions about the use of nuclear weapons.

While many Americans note that the government is taking steps to prevent another attack, there is room for improvement. 64% say the government in Washington is doing enough to help protect the area they live in from attack, but 27% say it is not. Those living in big cities are especially concerned about government efforts. (So were New York City respondents in a CBS News/New York Times poll conducted earlier this month).

Overall, 70% have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in the ability of the U.S. government to protect its citizens from future terrorist attacks, down from 81% in January.


President Bush and his administration have publicly targeted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a threat to the U.S., and seven in ten approve of the U.S. taking military action to remove Hussein from power. This has not changed since last February.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls





More Republicans than Democrats support efforts to oust Hussein. 82% of Republicans favor taking military action to do so, compared to 65% of Democrats.

Bush has also given his consent for the C.I.A. to try and topple Hussein from power without killing him; that step would meet with public approval. Seven in ten Americans approve of allowing the CIA to work secretly inside other countries to try to overthrow or weaken governments that are unfriendly to the U.S. In 1985, public sentiment was quite different; then, less than half favored allowing the C.I.A. to do that.


There is growing concern that additional violence could include nuclear weapons, and many think a terrorist could and would use such devices. 55% of Americans think the risk of nuclear war has increased in the last few years.

Despite the recent standoff between India and Pakistan, future nuclear threats are expected to come from a terrorist, not a war. 65% think it is more likely that a nuclear device will be used by a terrorist, and 25% think it is more likely a nuclear device will be used by one country against another.

Women are especially concerned about the possible use of nuclear weapons. 61% of women say the risk of nuclear war has increased in the last few years, compared with 48% of men. Both women and men see the terrorist threat as the more likely one.


Given the increased expectations for terrorist attacks, and the possible use of a nuclear device, it is not surprising that Americans view suspected terrorist Jose Padilla, who is thought to have been investigating the use of an explosive device with radioactive material, as a real threat to the U.S. 53% see Padilla as a real threat, but 20% say the Bush Administration has made him out to be a bigger threat than he is.

Republicans view Padilla as a threat by more than six to one; Democrats agree, but by a smaller two to one margin.

Padilla is currently being held by the military, and has not yet been charged with a crime. A majority of Americans support that action; 52% think it should be up to the military to decide what to do with him, and 39% think it should be up to a criminal court.

A similar percentage -- 57% -- agree that in general, suspected terrorists should be handled by military rather than criminal court.


As the fighting in Afghanistan continues, Americans have become less optimistic about its progress and more pessimistic about its difficulties. Now, 65% think that war is going very or somewhat well for the U.S., down from 73% in early May.

While 43% say the war is going as they expected, 31% say it is harder than they thought it would be. In January, only 14% thought it was more difficult than they expected.

The suspected terrorist behind the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, remains elusive. 80% of Americans think he is still alive, and 65% say the U.S. will not have won the war unless it captures or kills him.


President Bush's approval ratings on handling the campaign against terrorism and foreign policy are now slightly down from a month ago, but are still high. Bush's rating on handling the economy is even up slightly from May.

Americans still give George W. Bush a solid 70% approval rating overall, though that rating continues its very slight decline from the high of 90% shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls






When it comes to handling international crisis, the public makes no distinction between the President and his administration. Majorities see both as capable of handling international crisis. But the public views the President and his administration quite differently when it comes to caring about people. Six in ten Americans say President Bush cares about the needs and problems of people like themselves, but just 45% say this about most members of the President's administration. 48% say most members of the administration don't care about them.

Independents and women are especially likely to see the President and those who work for him differently. By 58% to 32%, independents say Bush cares about them; but by 53% to 38%, they say most of the administration does not. As for women, 61% say Bush cares about their needs and problems, but only 41% think the rest of the administration does.

The president and his administration are seen as equally capable of handling foreign conflicts. 62% now say they have confidence in the President's ability to deal wisely with an international crisis; 58% say this about members of his administration. Confidence in Bush's ability to handle an international crisis has declined since January, but is still much higher it was than a year ago.


Americans are divided over whether this president or someone else is really in charge of the government. 43% of Americans now see President Bush as being in charge of what goes on in his administration most of the time, but 46% say other people are really running the government. Fewer now than at the beginning of the year say George W. Bush is in charge, but the overall results are still slightly more balanced than they were near the start of Bush's presidency.

Among those who say other people are in charge, the top answers include the president's cabinet members and advisors, especially Vice President Dick Cheney, and the Congress and specific Congressional leaders.

Opinions of Attorney General John Ashcroft remain unchanged from May, with two thirds of the public having no opinion of him. 23% have a favorable opinion of Ashcroft, and 10% are unfavorable.


Congressional approval is down in this poll, from 50% in February to 43% now. As of now, the fall elections promise to be close. Among registered voters, 38% say they expect to vote for the Republican candidate in their district, and 37% expect to vote for the Democrat.


Evaluations of the economy are down from a month ago. Now, 59% say the economy is very or fairly good, and 39% say it is bad. In May, 66% rated it good and 34% thought the economy was bad.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 892 adults, interviewed by telephone June 18-20, 2002. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.