Public Release: 

New ISR survey finds some positive impact of terrorist attacks on American psyche

University of Michigan

Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans all get higher ratings on 'feeling thermometer'

ANN ARBOR---Americans are still suffering psychologically from last month's terrorist attacks, according to a special survey of the political, social, psychological and economic impact of the terrorist attacks, released today by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's largest academic survey and research organization.

More than 66 percent of the nationally representative sample of 668 American adults surveyed between Sept. 15 and Oct. 7 reported at least some trouble concentrating, 52 percent said they felt depressed, and nearly 62 percent reported restless sleep at least some of the time in the last week. Only 21 percent said they often felt hopeful about the future, compared with 68 percent answering that same question in a national survey in 1990.

But the Sept. 11 attacks have also had some positive effects on the American psyche, contributing to a sense of cohesion among the U.S. public, according to results from the survey, called How America Responds. More than 90 percent of those surveyed agree or strongly agree that they are proud to be an American, and nearly 60 percent agree that the world would be a better place if people from other countries were more like Americans. These are higher levels of patriotic feelings than reported in other national surveys conducted in the past five years.

At the same time, the public has shifted its attitudes toward the diverse groups that make up the country, with a greater tendency to view Americans of different races, ethnicities and religions more favorably than in the past.

"This is a patriotism of inclusion that seems much less jingoistic and ethnocentric than similar periods in the past," says U-M psychologist James S. Jackson.

On the "feeling thermometer" included in the survey, Black Americans were rated positively by 67 percent of respondents, compared with 63 percent of people surveyed in 2000. Hispanic Americans were rated positively by 64 percent of respondents, compared with 58 percent in 2000. Asian Americans were rated positively by 62 percent of respondents, compared with 61 percent in 2000. Jewish Americans received positive ratings from 67 percent of those surveyed. Even White Americans received better ratings in the survey---78 percent of respondents rated them positively in the wake of the terrorist attacks, compared with 72 percent in 2000 and 63 percent in 1998.

"These results, which indicate more positive feelings about the diverse racial and ethnic groups in America, suggest that the events of Sept. 11 may have produced a more expansive sense of who is an American," says Jackson. "Of course, how long these positive feelings last remains to be seen."

Jackson also notes that although Muslim Americans and Arab Americans did not fare as well, 43 percent of respondents rated these groups favorably.

On the whole, groups in the Middle East were rated less favorably than those in the United States. Israelis received positive ratings from 44 percent of respondents, Palestinians from 25 percent, and "Arabs in the Middle East" from 22 percent.

Complex causes seen for terrorist attacks

The survey also found that Americans seem to believe that the terrorist attacks have many causes rather than one single explanation. "As a nation, we are not making the mistake of seizing on a single simple answer to a very complex question," says U-M psychologist Robert L. Kahn. "And that's reassuring."

In an open-ended question asking respondents to name possible reasons for the attacks, almost half provided at least two reasons and one out of five provided three or more. Among the most frequently mentioned were hatred of the United States, undesirable characteristics of the terrorists, religious issues, non-religious differences between the United States and the terrorists, and U.S. international policies. (See attached selection of respondent comments.)

When next presented with a list of possible reasons, only 4 percent of the people surveyed agreed with only one item on the list, while 6 percent agreed with two, 12 percent agreed with three, and 78 percent agreed with four or more. About 82 percent responded "yes" when asked if it was Osama bin Laden, and about 62 percent agreed that it was because terrorists are sheltered in some countries. Almost 64 percent agreed that U.S. support for Israel was a reason, 51 percent agreed that U.S. failure to support Palestine was a cause and about 62 percent agreed that the U.S. role in the Persian Gulf was a reason. While not many people think the terrorist attacks were inevitable, a result of human nature or God's will, two-thirds agreed that the attacks were caused by a few crazy people. About half said Muslim-Christian conflict was responsible.

Patriotism and Personal Security

"Even though patriotic feelings have increased, the attacks have affected Americans' sense of personal safety and security," says U-M political scientist Michael Traugott, noting that about half the respondents in the survey say that the attacks have shaken their sense of personal safety a great deal or a good amount. "The significance of these altered feelings about personal safety can be seen in their attitudes about the economy, their own economic behavior and their willingness to let civil liberties be eroded."

For example, 76 percent of those whose personal sense of safety was shaken a great deal said they would be willing to give up some civil liberties in return for greater security, compared with 66 percent of those who said their sense of personal safety was not affected at all by the attacks. And 68 percent of those who reported being shaken a great deal said they would support random searches by police in public places, compared with just 41 percent of those who said they were not affected at all.

The survey results are based on a national list-assisted telephone sample, with interviewing conducted from Sept. 15 through Oct. 7. A randomly selected adult (18 years or older) was interviewed in 668 sample households, for an AAPOR response rate (3) of 59 percent. Standard errors for estimated percentages near 50 percent, reflecting the complexity of the design, are about 2 percentage points. Hence, the "margin of error" is estimated to be about 4 percentage points. The margin of error will vary for different statistics and will always be higher for statistics computed on subgroups. In addition to sampling error, use of the survey to describe the full U.S. household population is limited by the omission of non-telephone households, non-response to the survey, and failure to obtain accurate responses from sample persons.


EDITORS: Graph will be available at

Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Surveys of Consumers, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. Visit the ISR Web site at for more information.

How America Responds University of Michigan Institute for Social Research

Question: "People have different explanations for the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. What do you think are the reasons?

Some answers that were volunteered:

"My first thought is jealousy: America's ability to do what it does, the fact that we can be in the Middle East and spend money to help people they disagree with. Resentment is a better word, or religion. Power goes with resentment and jealousy, and religion is used as a cover in lots of cases. Not religion so much as power."

"I think that they do not want us to interfere. We've been favoring Israelis over Palestinians. I don't think it has anything to do with our economy or wealth."

"I think it's just ignorance of other cultures. I'm finding it really hard to understand."

"I believe that part of it is different views between Americans and the terrorists we're dealing with. In times past, the U.S. has stuck their nose in business they probably shouldn't have been in. I think we're dealing with maniacs."

"Just evil people."

"It's a complicated problem, and there's not an easy solution. It will be years."

"Boy, I think it's basically a religious war."

"My analogy is that there are certain times when human nature looks for a scapegoat similar to what the German people did to the Jews in the 1930s. Certainly in the past 30, 40 years some policies support of the Shah of Iran and the funding of Israel are two things the Arabs seemed not to have liked. Also, the general perception of America as arrogant in its power."

"I think that these particular people hate our way of life."

"I have been unable to develop a coherent reason."

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