Back to Normal? Sure, If the Norm Is Scary

Pollsters like to ask people whether they think life has returned to normal since 9/11. Sensibly enough, their respondents have gotten beyond the notion that the attack was an abnormality in an otherwise benign world. In an Ipsos Public Affairs poll conducted for the Orlando Sentinel, just 12 percent of adults said they feel things have returned to normal. The same poll found a rise since October 2001 in the number of people who feel in personal physical danger from future attacks (from 15 percent then to 24 percent now). Gallup polling has detected similar movement. In September 2002, 27 percent of its respondents said they think “time has healed the county’s wounds.” A year later, the number of people believing this had declined to 21 percent. Similarly, there’s been a falloff since March 2002 in the proportion of Gallup respondents who feel the country has gotten at least somewhat back to normal (65 percent then, 59 percent now). Meanwhile, the chart here shows respondents to a poll by the Pew Center for the People and the Press feel a sustained sense of peril. Seventy-four percent also believe “occasional acts of terrorism will be part of life in the future.” Does this mean terrorism tops the hierarchy of Americans’ fears? Not necessarily. In a Time/CNN poll by Harris Interactive, people were asked whether they worry more about “another terrorist attack somewhere in the U.S.” or “an economic downturn.” The downturn outpointed the attack by 50 percent to 43 percent. That’s consistent with an ABCNews survey in which 63 percent of respondents said the economy merits higher priority than terrorism.