Survey: Americans’ Concern about Islamic Fundamentalism at Highest Level Since 2002

September 8, 2015
The percentage of Americans who perceive a threat from Islamic fundamentalism is at its highest level since 2002, according to new survey data from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Key findings include:
  • The rise of the Islamic State and continued threat from related groups in the Middle East has heightened concerns about terrorist attacks. The percentage of Americans who perceive a “critical threat” from Islamic fundamentalism has increased 15 percentage points since the Council’s 2014 survey to 55 percent. This marks the highest level since 2002 survey results (the first Chicago Council Survey fielded after the September 11, 2001 attacks).
  • Americans rate the top threats facing the United States as the possibility of violent Islamic extremists groups carrying out a major terrorist attack in the United States (72 percent citing it as “a critical threat”) and international terrorism (69 percent, up from 63 percent in 2014).
  • By comparison, Americans regard only the threat of cyberattacks against U.S. computer systems (69 percent) as comparable to that posed by terrorism. Concerns about nuclear proliferation (59 percent) and Iran’s nuclear program (57 percent) remain high but no greater than they were in 2014.
  • To combat terrorist threats, majorities support using U.S. air strikes (77 percent), drone strikes (76 percent), assassinations of terrorist leaders (73 percent), attacks by U.S. ground troops (60 percent) and military assistance to Arab governments (58 percent).
  • Seven in 10 Americans (73 percent) expect the military action against ISIS to last longer than three years (19 percent say 1-3 years, and only 4 percent say it will take less than a year).
Other highlights include: 
  • For the most part, Americans tend to believe that the U.S. government is “very” or “somewhat” prepared for terrorist threats (in every case, more say somewhat than very). Solid majorities believe the United States is at least somewhat prepared to deal with international terrorism (64 percent) and a major terrorist attack in the United States (63 percent). But narrower majorities say that the United States is prepared to deal with the continuing conflict in Syria (53 percent), Islamic fundamentalism (52 percent) and the rise of Islamic extremist groups in Iraq and Syria (52 percent).
  • Public concerns about the continuing conflict in Syria remain low with just 35 percent of Americans describing it as a critical threat, though this represents an 11 percentage point increase from 2014. Asked which outcome in Syria would be most threatening to U.S. interests, a majority see “a victory by Islamic extremist groups” (58 percent) as the most dangerous outcome, followed by “a continuing civil war” (27 percent) and “a victory by the regime of Bashar al-Assad” (7 percent).
The full brief from the survey may be found here. The brief contains data from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey, which will be released at a livestreamed event on September 16 at 12 p.m. Eastern featuring POLITICO editor Susan Glasser and Chicago Council president Ambassador Ivo H. Daalder.
About the Chicago Council Survey
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2015 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research KnowledgePanel between May 25 and June 17, 2015 among a national sample of 2,034 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges from ± 2.2 to ± 3.1 percentage points depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups.
The 2015 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the United States-Japan Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.