National-security issues trumped the economy and other issues as the biggest problem facing the US in each of the three surveys.
These polls come after high-profile terror attacks across the world in France, Egypt, and the US in recent months. Terrorists affiliated with ISIS (also known as the Islamic State) have claimed responsibility for carrying out coordinated attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, bringing down a Russian airliner over Egypt that killed 224, and shooting 14 dead at a community center in San Bernardino, California.
In the WSJ/NBC poll, 40% of respondents said terrorism should be the top priority for the federal government. Just 21% of respondents named terrorism as top priority in the same survey in April. The second-most important issue from the December survey was job creation and economic growth, with 23% of respondents ranking that as the top priority.
A Pew survey had similar results. In the December poll, 29% of respondents cited terrorism, ISIS, or national security as the most important problem facing the nation, compared with just 4% who ranked those issues in the top spot in December of last year.
Pew also found that views of the government’s handling of terrorism have fallen to a new low since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on US soil. Until this month, most Americans surveyed said the government was doing “very well” or “fairly well” in reducing the threat of terrorism.
In January of this year, 72% of Americans surveyed responded positively about the government’s handling of terrorism. But by December, that number had fallen to 45%. And the share of those surveyed who responded that the government was doing “not at all well” in reducing threats is the highest it’s ever been, at 25%.
Terrorism also shot up to the top of the priorities list for Americans surveyed in a recent Gallup poll. In November, just 3% of those surveyed cited terrorism as the most important problem facing the country. One month later, that number increased to 16%, outpacing the economy, government, and guns.
Gallup noted that this is “the highest percentage of Americans to mention terrorism in a decade.”
This type of spike is relatively common after major terror attacks. Gallup reported that mentions also rose after the Madrid train bombings in 2004, after the London mass transit attacks in 2005, and the failed “underwear bombing” attempt in 2009.
And it’s not just terrorism — mentions of racism as a top problem facing the US tend to spike after racially charged incidents, like police shootings.
Here’s a look at the shift in the Gallup survey:
ISIS’ rampage across the Middle East kicked into high gear in 2014, as it seized cities across Iraq and Syria while declaring a “caliphate” — territory it governs based on a harsh interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.
The US government has been criticised for its initial response to the threat of ISIS. In January 2014, for instance, President Barack Obama compared ISIS to a JV basketball team — a comment that continues to haunt him today, as political pundits accuse him of underestimating the militants.
The rise of ISIS has been astonishingly swift and brutal. The group has beheaded Western hostages on video to gain exposure in the US and European media, seized a swath of territory about the size of Belgium, and used social media and slick propaganda to convince thousands of foreigners to travel to its caliphate to join the fight.
And as the militants have lost territory in the Middle East, they have stepped up attacks in Western countries to create the perception that they are winning the fight against the “infidels” of the West.