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New START Study Captures U.S. Attitudes toward Terrorism and Government Counterterrorism Initiatives

A recent START study, conducted over a period of two years, revealed that Americans’ attitudes toward terrorism and government responses to terrorism are considerably stable, unless respondents were confronted with a terrorist attack, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, or the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign.

The study, conducted by START Director Gary LaFree, Stanley Presser, Roger Tourangeau and Amy Adamczyk, is the latest wave in the U.S. Attitudes project, which examines American’s beliefs and attitudes about terrorism and government efforts to counter terrorism. The research is based on more than 5,500 questionnaires administered across four nationally representative panel surveys in between September 2012 and July 2014.

The research implies that Americans may be more willing to aid authorities in counterterrorism efforts in response to highly publicized terrorist attack, and that specialized programs, like “If You See Something, Say Something,” can increase public awareness.

The survey captured attitudes after the Boston Marathon bombings, highlighting that an increased proportion of the public would be “very likely” to notify police if they heard about a person traveling overseas to join a terrorist group. The sentiment had dissipated by the fourth wave of surveys.

The research also indicated that there was a marginally significant decline in the proportion of respondents who said that the government has been “very or somewhat” effective at preventing terrorism in the United States throughout each of the four surveys.

Additionally, the surveys assessed the percentage of respondents who had heard of the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. The surveys demonstrated an increase in awareness of the campaign over time. Respondents with a college degree or above showed the greatest level of awareness in the first survey, and displayed the sharpest increase in awareness across the four surveys.