10 Years After 9/11, Who Feels Safer?

BY Dante Chinni  September 9, 2011 at 4:00 PM EST

Ten years later there can be little question that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have changed much in the United States — everything from decisions on foreign policy to government spending priorities to airport security.

And while those attacks came as a bolt from the blue, they also made fear of terrorism part of the collective American consciousness. As the 9/11 anniversary approaches, those fears are not the same everywhere, according to a Patchwork Nation analysis of a recent Pew Research Center Survey.

The Pew survey was not large — in some of the Patchwork Nation types is was not large enough to draw sharp conclusions — but some patterns emerge in the data. Concerns about another terrorism attack linger, of course, but fears that an attack is “greater” now that it was on that fall day vary in our 12 county types. Also, the survey was published before the latest “specific, credible threat” came to light.

Wealthier, better-educated counties — particularly the Monied Burbs, Campus and Careers and Boom Town communities — generally tend to feel safer than other counties. But the wealthy, big city Industrial Metropolis counties, which have been the targets of previous plots, are more worried.

Compared to 2001, how do you grade terrorists’ ability now to launch another major attack on the U.S.?

Community Type Greater Same Less Don’t Know
Monied ‘Burbs 18.5% 40.8% 39.1% 1.6%
Minority Central 31.4% 37.1% 25.7% 5.7%
Evangelical Epicenters 26.7% 44.4% 24.4% 4.4%
Tractor Country 0% 40% 60% 0%
College and Careers 19.4% 33.3% 41.7% 5.6%
Immigration Nation 22.9% 34.3% 42.9% 0%
Industrial Metropolis 23.3% 32% 39.8% 4.9%
Boom Towns 19.6% 44% 33.7% 2.7%
Service Center 25% 44.6% 28.3% 2.2%
Empty Nests 26.5% 38.2% 35.3% 0%
Military Bastions 16.7% 38.9% 44.4% 0%
Mormon Outposts 50% 16.7% 33.3% 0%
Nationwide 23% 39% 35% 3%

Source: Pew Research Center survey, with analysis from Patchwork Nation

Not Forgotten

One thing that is clear looking at the Pew data, the memory of the attacks still burns deeply in all of Patchwork Nation’s 12 county types. In every one of them, more than 93 percent of those surveyed say they remember exactly where they were or what they were doing the moment they learned about the attacks.

But it’s interesting to note the difference in opinion on the “the ability of terrorists to launch another major attack on the U.S.” that seems less tied to the proximity of what one would believe are places that are still targets.

For instance, the wealthy, largely suburban Monied Burb counties may not feel they are actually targets for terrorist attacks — only about 18 percent of people surveyed there say the chances of an attack are “greater” — but they sill sit close to places that are. There are clumped around the major cities that have been targets in the past — places like Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles, which was targeted in the foiled “millennium plot.”

What’s more, many people who live in those Burbs work in those cities that might be targeted.

Meanwhile, look at the small Service Worker Centers. These places are largely removed from major metro areas and perceived terrorist targets, and yet, 25 percent of the people surveyed there believe the ability for terrorists to launch a major attack is “greater.”

What’s driving those differences in opinion? That’s something Patchwork Nation will delve into during the 2012 campaign as the national security issue is addressed.

But it’s possible that people who live in the Burbs, Campus and Careers and Boom Towns counties read more regularly about terrorism targets near them and see terrorist attacks in a more personal light. They see changes on the ground in law enforcement when the terrorism threat levels are raised — changes in rules for mass transit systems or entry to public spaces.

At the same time, those in more remote communities, like the Service Worker locales, may tend to see another terrorist attack as something more removed from their experience. They read about changes in security levels but they don’t “feel” them.

The big city Industrial Metros, meanwhile, actually live in areas that have been and are still assumed to be targets.

Still Uneasy

In many ways it’s natural that the people living in the Industrial Metros would be concerned, but the biggest point in these numbers may be how there are some people in almost all the communities who believe the ability for terrorists to strike is “greater” than it was 10 years ago. (The only exception is Tractor Country, a county type where the survey sample was not big enough to get a real reading.)

Those feelings persist despite the billions poured into security measures and disrupting terrorist groups, the time and money spent on killing al-Qaida operatives and complaints about lines at the airport.

Is the likelihood of such a grand attack really greater now than it was then? Security experts say almost certainly no. But the worries persist with some Americans.

And that may be the real legacy of 9/11 a decade later, a sign of how “nothing will ever be the same.” The 9/11 attacks taught Americans, regardless of where they live, that such attacks are possible. That was a huge change that will likely be with all Americans for many more years.