The State of Society- A Rush to Pre-9/11

Amitai Etzioni and Deirdre Mead

In many areas, the American society is now “normalizing;” it is shaking off the dramatic effects of the 2001 attack on America. It will continue to do so, we predict, unless it is shaken by another major attack, and only if it is a domestic one - not an overseas war.

I. DIRECTION OF THE COUNTRY

The percentage of Americans who are happy with the direction in which the country is heading has returned to pre-September 11 levels. A few days before the terrorist attack on America, 43 percent Americans were satisfied with the way things were going in the United States. After the attack, the percentage of Americans who were satisfied with the way things were going in the country rose steadily from 61 percent a few days after the attack, to 67 percent a month after the attack, and to its high of 70 percent in December 2001. But the percentage of satisfied Americans has declined sharply through 2002. Most recently, only 46 percent of Americans expressed satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States, while more - 51 percent - were dissatisfied.

Table 1. Satisfaction With the Way Things Are Going

In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way
things are going in the United States at this time?

 

Satisfied

Dissatisfied

No opinion

6-8 April 2001

50

47

3

10-14 May 2001

46

50

4

11-17 June 2001

51

46

3

19-22 July 2001

51

46

3

16-19 August 2001

48

49

3

7-10 September 2001

43

55

2

14-15 September 2001

61

36

3

11-14 October 2001

67

29

4

8-11 November 2001

65

33

2

6-9 December 2001

70

28

2

7-9 January 2002

65

32

3

4-6 February 2002

61

37

2

4-7 March 2002

61

37

2

8-11 April 2002

61

37

2

6-9 May 2002

56

40

4

3-6 June 2002

52

44

4

9-11 July 2002

49

48

3

22-24 July 2002

49

47

4

26-28 July 2002

48

49

3

5-8 August 2002

47

50

3

5-8 September 2002

47

51

2

3-6 October 2002

47

49

4

31 October-3 November 2002

48

47

5

11-14 November 2002

48

48

4

5-8 December 2002

46

51

3

Sources: Gallup/USA Today/CNN Polls.                  

When Americans were asked were about the moral condition of the country rather than its general condition (previous example), the findings are similar. A majority of Americans were satisfied with the moral direction of the country in the months immediately following the September 11 terrorist attack; however, since then this measure of satisfaction has fallen to pre-September 11 levels.

In May 2001, 41 percent of Americans were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the direction in which the country was going in terms of ethics and morals.(1) In the month after the terrorist attack, the percentage of people who were “very satisfied or “somewhat satisfied” surged to 60 percent.(2) It was 59 percent in the remaining two months of 2001.(3) By March 2002, the percentage of people who were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the direction of the country in terms of morals and ethics fell to 45 percent,(4) and it decreased even further to 39 percent in August 2002.(5) The year 2002 ended with 41 percent of Americans “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the direction of the country in terms of morals and ethics(6) - exactly where they found themselves before September 11.

II. CIVIL LIBERTIES

American society is slowly returning to its pre-September 11 views on civil liberties. For instance, nearly half of Americans (49 percent) thought it would be necessary to give up some civil liberties in order to curb terrorism after the April 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Within a month, that figure decreased to three in 10 Americans. Immediately after the September 11 terrorist attack, more than six in 10 Americans agreed that it was a necessary to give up some civil liberties in order to fight terrorism. Two months later, in November 2001, the number fell to a bit to more than five out of 10 Americans. More recently, in June 2002, 46 percent thought the average person would have to give up some liberties in order to fight terrorism. On this measure, too, Americans act as if the attack never happened. Barring a new attack, and with continued increases in security measures, we predict that a growing majority may well start to actively object to giving up liberties.

 

Table 2. Necessity to Give Up Civil Liberties

Date

Question

Necessary

Not necessary

Don’t know

April 1995a

In order to curb terrorism in this country, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some civil liberties, or not?

49

43

8

March 1996b

In order to curb terrorism in this country, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some civil liberties, or not?

30

65

5

April 1997c

In order to curb terrorism in this country, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some civil liberties, or not?

29

62

9

September 2001d

In order to curb terrorism in this country, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some civil liberties, or not?

55

35

10

September 2001e

In order to curb terrorism in this country, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some liberties, or not?

61

33

6

September 2001f

In order to curb terrorism, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some liberties, or not?

63

32

5

October 2001g

Do you think Americans will have to give up some of their personal freedoms in order to make the country safe from terrorist attacks, or not?

79

17

4

November 2001h

In order to curb terrorism in this country do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some rights and liberties, or do you think we can curb terrorism without the average person giving up rights and liberties?

51*

46*

3

November 2001h

Do you think you will have to give up some of your OWN rights and liberties in order to curb terrorism, or not?

58**

39**

3

January 2002i

In order to curb terrorism, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some liberties, or not?

55

39

6

June 2002j

In order to curb terrorism, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some liberties, or not?

49

45

6


June 2002k

In order to curb terrorism, do you think it will be necessary for the average person to give up some liberties, or not?

46

44

8



Sources: a Los Angeles Times Poll 26-27 April 1995.
b Pew Research Center for the People and Press News Interest Poll, 28-31 March 1996.
c Pew Research Center for the People and Press News Interest Poll, 3-6 April 1997.
d Los Angeles Times Poll, 13-14 September 2002.
e Pew Center for The People and Press, Poll, 13-17 September 2001.
f Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek Poll, 20-21 September 2001.
g CBS News Poll, 8 October 2001. Responses included “will have to” (79 percent) and “will not” (17 percent)
h National Public Radio/Kaiser/Kennedy School Poll on Civil Liberties, 31 October -12 November 2001.
I Pew Research Center for the People and Press News Interest Index Poll, 9-13 January 2002.
j Pew Research Center for the People and Press News Interest Index Poll, 19-23 June 2002.
k Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek Poll, 27-28 June 2002. Responses includes “yes” and “no”

Notes: * Responses include “necessary for the average person to give up some rights and liberties” (51 percent) and “we can curb terrorism without the average person giving up rights and liberties” (46 percent).
** Responses include “yes” (58 percent) and “no” (39 percent).


Other data show the same trend. An increasing percentage of Americans have expressed concerns that laws will be enacted that restrict civil liberties. Thirty-four percent of Americans were concerned that the government would enact laws that restrict civil liberties in September 2001. More than a year later, the percentage of Americans who held that concern grew by 10 percentage points to 44 percent of Americans.

 

Table 3. Concerns about Restrictions of Civil Liberties

What concerns you more right now? That the government will fail to enact strong, new anti-terrorism laws, or that the government will enact new anti-terrorism laws which restrict the average person’s civil liberties?

 

Enact laws that restrict civil liberties

Fail to enact strong laws

Neither

Don’t know/

refused

September 2001

34

39

10

17

January 2002

45

40

3

12

June 2002

49

35

3

13

November 2002*

44

40

3

11

Sources: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Post-Terrorist Attack Poll, 13-17 September 2001; Pew Research Center for the People and the Press News Interest Index Poll, 9-13 January 2002; Pew Research Center for the People and the Press News Interest Index Poll, 19-23 June 2002; and CBS News/New York Times Poll, 20-24 November 2002.

Note: * The November 2002 poll asked “Which concerns you more right now?” instead of “What concerns you more right now?” It also offered the option both (3 percent).

III. VOLUNTEERISM

President Bush’s call on all Americans to spend 4,000 hours or two years during their lifetime in volunteer service was very well received. After September 11, millions of Americans were deeply committed to find ways to help protect the homeland, by serving as first responders (assisting fire and medical services), patrolling major facilities (from water manes to electric power plants), and so on. However, the Bush Administration, for reasons that are difficult to fathom, chose to fold citizen service (homeland protection) into a repackaged entity of voluntary services that have long-exited, such as VISTA, the Peace Corps, and AmeriCorps.(7) Rather than ask Americans to serve by protecting their loved ones - that is lead with homeland protection - and, also, to volunteer more, the Bush Administration has continued to call on Americans to volunteer in one way or another. Homeland protection is listed simply as one more option to express one’s citizen commitment. As a result, the new urge to volunteer afer September 11 is rapidly being dissipated as, sadly, it has not been given an institutional expression.(8)

To illustrate, 44 percent of Americans over age 21 had volunteered with a formal organization within the past 12 months, and 27 percent within the past month, according to a study conducted on volunteerism in the spring of 2001.(9) By August 2002, only about one in four Americans (24 percent) reported that they had become more involved in volunteer or community service activities since September 11.(10) And a study conducted in 2002 reported that only 59 million Americans, or 28 percent of civilians ages 16 and older volunteered through or for an organization between September 2001 and September 2002.(11) (Note that on this issue, varying questions were used in the surveys, which may account for part or all of the disparate findings noted.)

When structured activities are available (e.g., company-sponsored volunteerism programs), they appear to successfully attract many Americans. In 2002, 54 percent of employed adults had employers that encouraged volunteerism; 42 percent had employers that sponsor volunteer programs; and 80 percent of those who work for companies that sponsor volunteer activities participated in them. Unfortunately, the percentage of Americans who have employers that sponsor volunteer programs has declined from 48 percent in 1998 to 42 percent in 2002, while interest has remained strong. In fact, despite the decrease in companies that sponsored volunteer programs between 1998 and 2002, there was an increase in the percentage of employees who participated in such programs - from 74 percent in 1998 to 80 percent in 2002.(12)

IV. TRUST

Trust in Fellow Americans

Since the terrorist attack, the percentage of Americans who viewed “people” as helpful and fair has decreased to near pre-September 11 levels, while the percentage of Americans who viewed people as trustworthy has increased. In 2000, 46 percent of Americans viewed people as helpful; 52 percent viewed people as fair; and 35 percent viewed people as trustworthy.(13) Both in the weeks following the attack in September 2001 and again in the first three months of 2002, the number of Americans who viewed people as helpful grew to about two in three (68 percent and 67 percent, respectively); the number who thought that people try to be fair increased to over six in 10 Americans (64 percent at both times); and the number of Americans who viewed people as trustworthy increased to about four in 10 Americans (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively).(14)

By September 2002, perceptions of helpfulness and fairness decreased (while trust increased slightly). At that time, 58 percent thought people generally try to be helpful, while 38 percent said they are just looking out for themselves. Sixty-two percent believed most people try to be fair; 34 percent thought that most people would try to take advantage of you if they get a chance.(15) Forty-two percent of Americans thought that most people can be trusted, while 56 percent believed that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people.

Trust in Government

Trust in government surged after the terrorist attack, but recently has decreased to near pre-September 11 levels. In July 2001, only 29 percent trusted the government in Washington to do what is right “most of the time” or “just about always.”(16) In the wake of the attack, in September 2001, 64 percent trusted the government in Washington to do what is right “most of the time” or “just about always.”(17) By October 2001, trust in Washington fell to 57 percent,(18) and it decreased even further to 40 percent in May 2002,(19) a level at which it appears to have remained in the subsequent months. For instance, September 2002 polls found that 40 percent,(20) 38 percent,(21) and 46 percent (22) of Americans trusted the government “most of the time” or “just about always.”

Favorable opinions of government also grew in the wake of September 11, but have declined to near pre-September 11 levels recently. In October 2000, 54 percent of Americans held “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” views of the federal government.(23) Two months after the attack, in November 2001, 82 percent held favorable views.(24) Most recently, in December 2002, 64 percent held favorable views of the federal government.(25)

The percentage of Americans who held favorable views of both state and local governments also increased after September 11, but most recently have fallen to pre-September 11 levels. Local governments were viewed favorably by 68 percent of Americans in October 1997.(26) Two months after the attack, in November 2001, the percentage of Americans who viewed their local government favorably surged to 78 percent,(27) and by December 2002 it fell to 68 percent.(28) State governments, many of which are facing large budget deficits, have also seen decreases in the percentage of Americans who view them favorably. In October 1997, 66 percent of Americans viewed their state governments favorably.(29) In the wake of the terrorist attack, in November 2001, it grew to 77 percent.(30) By December 2002, the percentage of Americans who viewed their state government favorably fell to 62 percent,(31) four percentage points less than what it was in October 1997.

V. AIRLINE TRAFFIC

Airline traffic precipitously fell in the period immediately following the terrorist attack, and has gradually been recovering, trending toward pre-September 11 levels. In the first part of 2001, between January and August, airlines experienced a slight increase of a little less than one percent in enplanements over the year 2000.(32) In August 2001, one month before the terrorist attack, the percentage of passengers boarding flights increased by three percent over the previous year. In September 2001, which includes the 10 days before the attack, enplanements dropped 34 percent from September 2000. Traffic began a slow but steady increase during the remainder of the year, though enplanements remained considerably less than what they were during the same months in the year 2000. During the highly-traveled holiday months, the drop in enplanements continued to recede, and the first six months of the year 2002 followed the same pattern - showing people slowly but steadily returning to air travel. By June 2002, enplanements were down eight percent over the previous year.

 

Table 4. Domestic Enplanements (in Millions of Passengers)

 

2000

2001

2002

Percent change 2000-2001

Percent change 2001-2002

January

41.37

43.83

38.13

+6

-13

February

46.47

47.56

42.43

+2

-11

March

52.86

52.82

48.05

0

-9

April

51.68

52.10

46.48

+1

-11

May

51.98

50.72

46.58

-2

-8

June

56.12

54.89

50.29

-2

-8

July

55.41

55.50

n/a

0

n/a

August

54.38

56.14

n/a

+3

n/a

September

47.74

31.41

n/a

-34

n/a

October

50.53

39.82

n/a

-21

n/a

November

50.93

41.50

n/a

-19

n/a

December

46.69

40.45

n/a

-13

n/a

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Transportation Indicators (Washington, DC: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, December 2002).
Available at: Accessed 3 January 2003.

VI. FAMILY - Pre-September 11 Trend Continues.

The family was gradually, very gradually, on the mend before September 11. After a surge of increased commitment to loved ones, the pre-September 11 trend continues.

Divorce and Marriage

The divorce rate was declining somewhat before September 11. Indeed, provisional data for 2001 indicate that the divorce rate is continuing to fall - to 4.0 per 1,000 total population.(33) This is a slight decrease over previous years when the divorce rate was 4.1 (in 1999),(34) 4.2 (in 1998 and 2000)(35) and 4.3 (in 1997).(36) When the divorce rate is examined over a longer period of time, a rosier picture emerges. There has been a slow but steady decrease in the divorce rate since 1981, when it peaked at 5.3 per 1,000 total population.(37)

One proposal that seeks to further decrease divorce rates and strengthen marriages - government-sponsored programs - finds widely varying levels of support. Forty-six percent of Americans agreed that the state or federal government should be involved in marriage education programs, while 51 percent disagreed with government involvement in such programs in March 2002.(38) Another poll conducted around the same time found that only 18 percent of Americans believed that the government should start up programs that encourage people to get and stay married, while 79 percent thought the government should say out of this area.(39) Meanwhile, more than seven in 10 Americans (72 percent) agree that it is possible to teach couples how to have a good marriage, while one in four (26 percent) disagree.(40)

Teens

Teen birth rates also have been declining. In 2001, the teen birth rate reached the lowest level ever reported - 45.9 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19.(41) This is a five percent decrease in the birth rate over 2000 (48.5 births) and a 26 percent decline since the recent peak in teen births in 1991 (62.1 births).(42) Another related finding is that the percentage of high school students who are choosing to abstain from sexual intercourse has continued to increase. In 2001, 46 percent of high school students responded that they had had sexual intercourse during their lifetime, and 14 percent had had four or more partners.(43) A decade ago, in 1991, the percentages of teens who were sexually active was significantly higher: more than half (54 percent) of high school students said they had had sexual intercourse and 19 percent had had four or more partners.(44) Thus, between 1991 and 2001 there was a 16 percent decrease in the percentage of high school students who engaged in sexual intercourse and a 24 percent decline in the percentage of those who had four or more partners.(45)

Two of this panel’s members, Isabel Sawhill and William A. Galston played key roles in bringing about these changes.

VII. BUSINESS

While two in three Americans (66 percent) believe that “Wall Street is absolutely essential because it provides the money business must have for investments,” most Americans held negative views of Wall Street and those who work for it in 2002.(46) Sixty-one percent agreed that “most people on Wall Street would be willing to break the law if they believed they could make a lot of money and get away with it;” 57 percent agreed that “Wall Street is dominated by greed and selfishness;” and 57 percent disagreed with the statement that “in general, people on Wall Street are as honest and moral as other people.”(47) In 1998, when the market was on the up and up and 401(k)s had not yet plummeted views of Wall Street were also generally negative, though not as negative as they were in 2002. In 1998, 73 percent thought that Wall Street was absolutely essential; 56 percent thought that “most people on Wall Street would be willing to break the law if they could make lots of money and get away with it;” 55 percent thought that Wall Street was “dominated by greed and selfishness;” and only 47 percent disagreed with the statement that “people on Wall Street are as honest and moral as other people.”(48)

Americans have also expressed anger about recent corporate behavior. In the fall of 2002, 87 percent of Americans responded that most top company managers are paid “more than they deserve;” 12 percent believe they are paid “about what they deserve;” and only one percent think they are paid “less than what they deserve.”(49) Similarly, 87 percent agreed with the statement that “top company managers have become rich at the expense of ordinary workers; and of those who agreed with that statement, 46 percent of them were “very angry” about this relationship and 37 percent were “somewhat angry.”(50)

Endnotes:


1. TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 3-7 May 2001.

2. Newsweek/Princeton Survey Research Associates Poll, 28-29 August 2002. TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 3-7 October 2001.

3. TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 7-11 November 2001; and TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 5-9 December 2001.

4. TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 5-11 March 2002.

5. TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 5-9 August 2002.

6. TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 2-8 December 2002.

7. For more information about USA Freedom Corps, visit www.usafreedomcorps.gov .

8. For data that show increases in applications to various voluntary associations since September 11, see www.usafreedomcorps.gov/about_usafc/whats_new/progress_reports.asp.

9. Christopher M. Toppe, Arthur D. Kirsch, and Jocabel Michel, Giving and Volunteering in the United States, 2001: Executive Summary (Washington, DC: Independent Sector, 2002), 8.

10. Newsweek/Princeton Survey Research Associates Poll, 28-29 August 2002.

11. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Press Release, 18 December 2002. Available at: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htm. Accessed 18 December 2002.

12. . Prudential Financial, Inc. Research Survey on Company Sponsored Volunteerism, August 2002.

13. 2000 General Social Surveys, reported in Tom W. Smith, Kenneth A. Rasinski, and Marianna Toce, America Rebounds: A National Study of Public Response to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks (Chicago, IL: National Opinion Research Center, October 2001), 3.

14. Kenneth A. Rasinski, et. al., America Recovers: A Follow-Up to a National Study of Public Response to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks (Chicago, IL: National Opinion Research Center, August 2002), 3, 7-8. See also, Smith, Rasinski, and Toce, America Rebounds, 3.

15. Washington Post Poll, 3-6 September 2002.

16. Polling data reported in G. Calvin Mackenzie and Judith Labiner, Opportunity Lost: The Rise and Fall of Trust and Confidence in Government After September 11 (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Center for Public Service, May 2002). Available at: http://www.brook.edcu/dybdocroot/gs/cps/opportunityfinal.pdf. Accessed 6 June 2002.

17. ABC News/Washington Post Poll, 25-27 September 2001.

18. Polling data reported in Mackenzie and Labiner, Opportunity Lost.

19. Princeton Survey Research Associates/Brookings Institution Center for Public Service Trust in Government Survey, 2-12 May 2002.

20. Washington Post Poll, 3-6 September 2002.

21. CBS News/New York Times Poll, 2-5 September 2002.

22. Gallup/CNN/USA Today Poll, 2-4 September 2002.

23. Polling data reported in Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Public More Internationalist than in 1990s: Terrorism Worries Spike, War Support Steady (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, December 2002). Available at: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=166. Accessed 13 December 2002. Questionnaire available at: http://people-press.org/reports/print.php3?PageID=658. Accessed 13 December 2002.

24. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Media Attitudes/Youth Engagement/ Religion After 9/11 Poll, 13-19 November 2001.

25. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press News Interest Index Poll, 4-8 December 2002.

26. Polling data reported in Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Public More Internationalist.

27. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Media Attitudes/Youth Engagement/ Religion After 9/11 Poll, 13-19 November 2001.

28. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press News Interest Index Poll, 4-8 December 2002.

29. Polling data reported in Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Public More Internationalist.

30. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Media Attitudes/Youth Engagement/ Religion After 9/11 Poll, 13-19 November 2001.

31. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press News Interest Index Poll, 4-8 December 2002.

32. U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Transportation Indicators (Washington, DC: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, December 2002). Available at: Accessed 3 January 2003.

33. “Births, Marriages, Divorces and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2001,” National Vital Statistics Report 50, no. 14 (11 September 2002): 1. The CDC notes that the divorce rates exclude data for California, Colorado, Indiana and Louisiana and that the population for these rates also exclude those states.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid; and “Births, Marriages, Divorces and Deaths: Provisional Data for 1999,” National Vital Statistics Report 48, no. 19 (22 February 2001): 1. The CDC notes that the divorce rates exclude data for California, Colorado, Indiana and Louisiana and that the population for these rates also exclude those states.

36. “Births, Marriages, Divorces and Deaths,” National Vital Statistics Report 48.

37. Sally Clark, “Advanced Report of Final Divorce Statistics, 1989 and 1990,” Monthly Vital Statistics Report 43, no. 9, suppl (22 March 1995): 9.

38. TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 5-11 March 2002.

39. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2002 Religion and Public Life Survey, 25 February-5 March 2002.

40. TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor Poll, 5-11 March 2002.

41. Joyce A. Martin, Melissa M. Park, and Paul D. Sutton, “Births: Preliminary Data for 2001,” National Vital Statistics Report 50, no. 10 (6 June 2002): 1.

42. Ibid, 2.

43. Jo Anne Grunbaum, et. al., “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance - United States, 2001,” In: Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2002 51, no. SS-4 (28 June 2002): 13.

44. N. Brener, et. al., “Trends in Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High School Students - United States, 1991-2001,” Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report 2002 51, no. 38 (27 September 2002): 859.

45. Ibid, 856-857.

46. Harris Poll, 15-21 October 2002.

47. Ibid.

48. Harris Poll, 9-13 September 1998.

49. Harris Poll, 24 September-2 October 2002.

50. Ibid.

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