In London’s Wake, Public Fears Attacks On Mass Transit

Posted July 26, 2005 at 3:26pm

Where terrorist attacks on transportation are concerned, the public sees a significant difference between aviation and trains or subways. [IMGCAP(1)]

In a July 13-14 CBS News/New York Times poll, 54 percent of respondents said that the federal government had done all it could reasonably be expected to do to improve airport security since Sept. 11, 2001, while 42 percent said it could have done more.

But when asked about security on trains and mass-transit systems, just 26 percent said the government had done all it reasonably could to improve security, while 61 percent said it could have done more.

When asked whether surveillance cameras were a good idea “because they may help to reduce the threat of terrorism,” 71 percent said they were, while 23 percent said they were a bad idea “because surveillance cameras may infringe on people’s privacy rights.” Solid majorities of Republicans (78 percent), Democrats (65 percent) and independents (71 percent) said cameras were a good idea.

In the meantime, 49 percent of respondents told NBC News/Wall Street Journal interviewers in a July 8-11 poll that the government can do a great deal or quite a bit to prevent terrorist attacks like the ones in London, while 31 percent said government can do just some things and 18 percent said government can do little or nothing.

Terrorists on Our Soil. A whopping 94 percent in the CBS/NYT poll said there were terrorists living in the United States today who are planning to launch future attacks. Just 3 percent said there weren’t.

Confidence Gap. In a July 7-10 poll by Westhill Partners/Hotline, 40 percent said they trusted Republicans the most to “successfully finish the job in Iraq,” while 28 percent trusted Democrats. Fourteen percent volunteered “neither.”

Bush’s Presidency to Date. In an NBC/WSJ poll, 54 percent said that President Bush had done “just about as expected” compared to what they thought when he took office. Sixteen percent said he was better, and 29 percent said he was worse.

The Supreme Court Nomination. I’ll say more about this later, but it’s worth noting that 44 percent told Pew in mid-July — before the announcement that John Roberts would be Bush’s first nominee for the Supreme Court — that the question of who should be appointed is more controversial this year, while 44 percent said it was as controversial as it has always been. Five percent said it’s less controversial than normal. When those who said it was more controversial were asked who was responsible, 37 percent said the Republicans, 39 percent said the Democrats.

Despite the lengthy preparations for a nomination fight, only 3 percent told Pew that they had been contacted by any individual or group about the forthcoming nomination.

Disclosure and Court Nominees. A July 21 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 61 percent said Roberts should answer questions about how he would have ruled on past cases. Another question found that 64 percent thought he should publicly state his position on abortion.

But a July NBC News/WSJ poll found that 53 percent said a nominee “should not be required to state his or her positions,” as judges should be selected based on experience and overall qualifications. Forty-three percent said a nominee should be required to discuss views on specific issues so that Senators have the information to decide whether to confirm this person for life.

Media Favorability: A 20-Year Review. The Pew Research Center recently updated some of its trends about the media. In a June 8-12 poll, 68 percent had a favorable opinion of network television news such as ABC, NBC, and CBS — down from 84 percent 20 years ago — while 72 percent had a favorable opinion of their daily newspaper, which was down from 81 percent. Local television news rated favorably among 73 percent of respondents, down from 84 percent in 1985.

The Bad News Bias. Sixty-seven percent in the Pew poll said news organizations pay too much attention to bad news. Three percent said the media pays too much attention to good news, while 23 percent said they report the kinds of stories they should covering.

In a separate question, 42 percent of respondents said that news organizations stand up for America, while 40 percent said they were too critical. In 1985, by contrast, 52 percent said the media stands up for America, while 30 percent said they were too critical.

Smokers’ Corners. For the first time in Gallup’s polling, a majority — 54 percent — wanted to totally ban smoking in restaurants. Just 17 percent gave this response in 1987. In the more recent poll, 42 percent said they would favor setting aside areas for smokers.

As for workplaces, 41 percent favor a total ban (up from 17 percent in 1987), while 56 percent preferred special areas. Thirty-four percent favored a total ban on smoking in hotels and motels, with 60 percent opting for designated areas.

People feel differently about bars, however: 29 percent favor a total ban on smoking in bars, while 40 percent favor setting aside special areas and 28 percent said they’re fine with no restrictions at all.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.