September 11 / 10 Years Later: Cautiously Optimistic

The Columbus Dispatch – September 11, 2011

For the first time since the twin towers tumbled a decade ago today, fewer than 1 in 10 of us is “very worried” that there will be another terrorist attack soon in America, a new poll shows.

In fact, the percentage of Columbus-area residents who believe that the U.S. and its allies are winning the war against terrorism has almost doubled in just the past year.

Our perception of whether military action against the Taliban and al-Qaida has been a success has leaped 20 percentage points since 2010 to a solid majority for the first time.

Despite the “credible threat” of another terrorist attack coinciding with 9/11’s 10th anniversary, central Ohioans’ greater feeling of security seems a natural outgrowth of the killing of Osama bin Laden in May and the elimination of other high-value targets in recent weeks, said Martin D. Saperstein, head of Columbus polling firm Saperstein Associates.

“We got a couple of bad guys, and the numbers really shifted,” Saperstein said.

Poll participant Kathy Exline, a 62-year-old retiree on the Northeast Side, said both the nation’s safety and “emotional outlook” improved greatly after the SEALs took bin Laden out of the picture.

But Tony Holland, 60, of Canal Winchester, remains concerned about another terrorist attack, even with bin Laden dead.

“Getting rid of the leaders helps, but it still doesn’t disperse the organization. That might be a problem,” said Holland, a consultant with a doctorate in psychology. “There will always be some type of terrorism going on. We’ve controlled it with the wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) but have not eliminated it.”

Phil Foell, 44, of the Northwest Side, said there is a reason for us to be involved in those two conflicts, but the U.S. is not winning the war on terror.

“We’re not reducing the number of people around the world who think America is evil,” said Foell, a community-group organizer for international students at Ohio State University. “It’s kind of like asking if America is winning the war on flu. The flu will always be there. We can try to fight it, but it will always be there.”

The Saperstein Associates telephone poll of 402 Columbus-area residents from Aug. 29 through last Sunday has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The error rate is higher for subsamples. The response rate was 31 percent.

Saperstein Associates has been taking annual surveys for The Dispatch on attitudes and beliefs about 9/11 since the week after the 2001 terrorist attack.

Even though many predicted shortly after the terrorists hit us that “our world will never be the same,” a third said 9/11 had a bigger effect on our everyday lives than we expected 10?years ago.

Today, we generally approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of Iraq and Afghanistan despite the unpopularity of those wars. But with weakness among independents and even his fellow Democrats, 41 percent of us say we definitely wouldn’t vote to re-elect Obama next year.

“He’s gotta run the table” with the 59 percent still willing to give him a shot, Saperstein said. “A lot of things can change. And there’s lots of precedent for big things changing. When Bush ‘41’ was done with Desert Storm, he looked unbeatable.”

Despite Obama’s publicizing his original birth certificate this year, 15 percent still don’t believe he was born in America — down just 1 percentage point from two years ago. One in 4 central Ohio Republicans still don’t believe Obama was born in this country.

Kyle Meadows, 23, a stay-at-home dad in Worthington, said Obama is “doing a better job than I thought, considering the stereotypes everyone’s throwing at him.”

But engineer Tim Shankland, 64, of Pickerington, said, “He’s clueless. He is absolutely clueless. I have never seen a man, especially for economics, that is as clueless as that man.”

One thing that hasn’t changed in recent years: We’re still more suspicious of those with Arab backgrounds — the exact same percentage now (41) as two years after the attack — and uneasy about Muslims’ role in terrorism.

“You kind of look over your shoulder a little bit at some of the immigrants, wondering if they are going to do something,” Holland said.

Retiree James Jones, 75, of the Northwest Side, said, “It’s pretty obvious that it was not people of American descent that caused our problems on 9/11.”

Although Joan Schava, 76, said the government is doing a better job at keeping America safe from terrorists, she is always on her guard.

“If I see a box or briefcase, I am very leery of it,” the West Sider said. “If I see someone that’s Middle Eastern, I won’t get on the plane. I’ll just wait.”

Even a decade after the wounds in New York, near Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania, Schava said the memory of those events remains fresh.

“It made me realize life is very short,” she said. “All those people didn’t know it was their last day, so every day to me is very precious.”

Foell said he’s not worried about another attack.

“I believe that there’s a God in heaven who’s in control. Even though disasters happen, there is a master plan and a designer who can turn catastrophes into good events.”