Water supply seen among likely terrorist targets according to new poll

Water supplies were seen by a majority of Americans polled as likely new targets for terrorist attacks, as well as government buildings, stadiums, bridges and tunnels.

NEW YORK, Oct. 20, 2001 — Water supplies were seen by a majority of Americans polled as likely new targets for terrorist attacks, as well as government buildings, stadiums, bridges and tunnels.

A majority of Americans believe that it is at least somewhat likely that large numbers of Americans will die in the near future by terrorist attacks through the use of conventional explosives (74%), anthrax sent through the mail (57%), smallpox or some other disease (55%), Newsweek reported in its latest issue.

Topping the list of targets seen as at least somewhat to very likely to be attacked next are: another major business or government building (79%), a stadium or sports arena (63%), a major bridge or tunnel (62%), or a water supply (61%).

And with the number of reported anthrax cases growing, a majority (63%) of Americans thinks that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network is probably behind the contamination. Despite that, a majority (67%) is at least somewhat confident (19% say very confident) that national and local governments are prepared to deal with a terrorist attack with chemical or biological weapons — a significant increase over last week. Twenty-four percent say they are not too confident and seven percent say they are not confident at all.

However, only seven percent of people polled think that it is very likely they or their families will be exposed to anthrax or some other biological agent in the near future (15% say somewhat likely; 40% say not too likely; and 37% say not at all likely).

And an overwhelming majority (94%) of Americans have not taken any steps in recent weeks to protect themselves against a chemical or biological attack by buying a gas mask or obtaining antibiotics. Six percent say they have. A narrow majority (52%) says they are more sympathetic toward those people who have taken such steps and understand their fears, while 33 percent say they are more critical of them for overreacting and hoarding supplies that may be needed by others.

An overwhelming majority (88%) still approves of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job. And American approval of U.S. military action in Afghanistan remains high at 88 percent. But only 78 percent believe that the Bush administration and the military have a well-thought out plan for the use of force overseas to fight terrorism.

A narrow majority of Americans (52%) believes the U.S. should not reduce its ties to Israel in order to lessen the acts of terrorism against us, marking a slight decrease since the last Newsweek Poll (56%). Twenty-eight percent of Americans believe the U.S. should reduce ties with Israel.

However, a larger 62-percent majority says reducing ties with Israel would not reduce the amount of terrorist acts directed against the U.S. (29% believe it would). And a plurality of Americans think that putting pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate over basic differences would not be effective in countering terrorism (38%), while 35 percent think it would. Just eight percent think the United States could do more by putting pressure only on the Israelis; 10 percent by putting such pressure on the Palestinians.

A large majority (75%) also thinks that at least 100 or more people involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or connected with bin Laden are probably still at large in the United States (51% believe more than 100 people) and 62 percent believe there are at least thousands (17% say tens of thousands) belonging to the terrorist network at large around the world. Opinion is divided on whether Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, recently appointed Homeland Security Director, has already made a difference in coordinating efforts by the FBI, CIA and other government agencies to improve security at home. Thirty-seven percent say he is just starting to make a difference (15% say he already has) and 28 percent say he is not showing any signs of making a difference (20% don't know).

Most people (71%) say the government is releasing enough reliable information to the public about the recent cases of anthrax and a slim majority also agreed with the U.S. Senate's decision to remain in session (53%) despite the discovery of anthrax contamination in a government office building. Thirty-four percent agreed with the House decision to recess until Tuesday.

As to improving airline security, more people think the government should pay for upgrades to the system, rather than through surcharges on airline tickets. Fifty-five percent of people polled think the government should pay for putting sky marshals on flights, armed with special training to deal with terrorists (30% say surcharges on airline tickets should be used to pay for them); 49 percent think the government should pay for putting the federal government in charge of baggage inspection (33% say surcharges). Opinion is more evenly split on who should pay for installing more modern baggage inspection technology at airports (45% say governments, 44% say surcharges).

And while at least 24 percent say they are feeling at least somewhat less safe (9% say a lot less safe), those figures are the lowest since the September 11 attacks. Only 15 percent in the Newsweek Poll say life in the United States has permanently changed for the worse. Twenty-eight percent think it has changed for the time being but will return to the way it was before Sept. 11. Fifty-two percent say it will not only return to normal, but actually improve.

For this Newsweek Poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates interviewed by telephone 1,006 adults aged 18 and older on Oct. 18-19, 2001. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. This Newsweek Poll is part of the Oct. 29 issue (on newsstands Monday, October 22).

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