Poll Examines Personal Impact Of Sept. 11

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Ten years after the attacks, substantial majorities say Sept. 11 had a profound personal impact and that it changed the country. Yet the public continues to be divided over many of the anti-terrorism policies that arose in the wake of Sept. 11. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, talks about the group's latest survey.


From NPR News, this is live special coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I'm Audie Cornish. A decade later, the event of 9/11 still have a powerful hold on America's collective consciousness. The Pew Research Center, which studies public attitudes and trends, has released new data about the personal impact of September 11th. Andrew Kohut is president of The Pew Research Center and we spoke with him this past week. He says, as one might expect, nearly all of the people they surveyed remember what they were doing and where they were when the attacks occurred.

ANDREW KOHUT: We've been testing the impact of big events for some time now and 97 percent of the people we questioned said they remember where they were when they heard about the 9/11 attacks. This compares very closely to the John F. Kennedy's assassination with people who were old enough and it compares pretty closely to Pearl Harbor when we questioned about that a decade ago among the people who were old enough to remember that. So this is one of those events that almost no one forgets.

People not only remember where they were, they say the attacks affected them a great deal said 75 percent. And most people say that the country's been changed. However, when you look at some other aspects of public opinion, things are quite different now than they were in the years following 9/11. We don't find primacy of foreign policy when we ask what should the president's highest priority be. Now, it's the economy and domestic issues. We don't see national security as a pressing issue the way it was back then.

CORNISH: According to the survey, you also see significant disagreement about anti-terrorism policies that were put in place after the attacks. And can you describe which areas you found the biggest difference of opinion in the Americans you surveyed?

KOHUT: Well, we've seen divides over time about how to deal with counterterrorism. Originally, there was a 55 to 35 percent margin saying we're gonna have to sacrifice civil liberties to combat terrorism. That was in the month following the 9/11 attacks. Ten years later, the reverse is true. Fifty-four percent say no, we don't have to sacrifice civil liberties. However, when you ask about specific issues, you see a mix of attitudes. Most people believe that they would be willing to accept all citizens carrying an identity card in an effort to combat terrorism.

Most people believe that it's acceptable to have extra airport checks on passengers who appear to be of Middle Eastern decent. However, there's no support or not anywhere near a majority support for government monitoring of credit card purchases or the government monitoring of personal telephone calls. So it's a mix of things.

CORNISH: But there is some agreement among Americans you surveyed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not necessarily made the country safer, at least as it relates to the possibility of a future attack.

KOHUT: It's extraordinary. Just 25 percent think that the war in Afghanistan has lessened the chances of a terrorist attack and 26 percent believe that about the war in Iraq. And relatively few, almost as many, in fact, say they think that these wars have increased the chances. So the public is really very divided about what's been successful and what's not and when we asked people, well, why haven't we had another attack. Is it because we've done a good job of protecting ourselves? Many people say yes, but almost as many say because we've been lucky.

So there's a real division of opinion about the ways in which we've coped with the threat of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks.

CORNISH: And that what we've done has - all the actions we've taken have actually made us any safer.

KOHUT: That's right.

CORNISH: Andrew Kohut is president of The Pew Research Center. Andy, thanks for talking with us.

KOHUT: You're welcome.

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