The Terrorism Threat Index-Proof of Concept
by Sun Tzu, Sun Jan 29, 2006 at 11:39:56 AM EST
The Homeland Security Advisory System, those famous color-coded threat bars, were developed by the government after 9/11 to tell us how worried, concerned, fearful, etc. we should be regarding the threat of a terrorist attack.
It's a one-way system. There's no systematic nor comprehensive feedback on the issue from the public. Further, it's going on five years now since 9/11 and no ongoing public poll, to my knowledge, has provided an easy-to-understand summary of how Americans perceive the threat of terrorist attack. Sure, these polls ask questions on occasion, but there's no integrated system, or index measure, that's been developed and tracked regularly over time.
Major polls have just such indexes for consumerism/economic behavior. Good ones, too. Witness the plethora available at the Polling Report website. Funny how consumerism trumps terrorism as an issue deemed worthy of significant polling resources and measurement efforts, eh? Shocking, I say.
In our view, it's time voters are able to tell elected officials, business and community leaders how worried, concerned, fearful, etc. they should be regarding public perceptions of a terrorist attack. Let's complete the feedback loop. The MyDD Poll, again breaking new ground, designed just such a assessment into this poll: the Terrorism Threat Index. It's a basic assessment in this poll due to funding limitations and time constraints with a relatively short interview. We couldn't ask a whole series of questions about it. However, this post shows how the concept works, providing clear summary information through only five questions. The Index easily can and should be expanded with more measures and developed into a robust summary of voter perceptions of threat of the terrorist attack. Here's how it works...
We asked five key questions in the poll that get at how voters feel about a terrorist threat:
1) A job performance rating on the federal government's efforts protecting America since 9/11,
2) A rating on personal feelings of safety and security since 9/11,
3) A rating on worry about a terrorist attack on the country in the next year,
4) A rating on worry that Osama bin Laden has not been captured,
5) And a rating on personal confidence in federal emergency response should a terror attack or other man-made or natural disaster occur in one's local area.
After all poll questions are released (we're rolling them all out over the weekend and through Tuesday), you'll note they all are based on five-point scales. Thus, these questions were combined into a five-point summary measure, mirroring the Homeland Security System: Low, Guarded, Elevated, High and Severe. Here are the results by demography:
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) Avg. 1-5
Low Guarded Elevated High Severe Point Score
United States: 6% 28% 39% 23% 4% 2.91 (Elevated)
Region (* p=.007):
Northeast 7 27 33 30 3 2.96
South 8 33 37 19 3 2.76
Midwest 6 26 41 23 4 2.94
Rockies 3 31 47 16 3 2.85
West Coast, AK, HI 3 19 47 24 7 3.12
Party (* p=.000):
Democrat 3 13 44 32 8 3.31
Republican 10 44 32 13 1 2.50
Indep/Other/No party 6 27 41 23 3 2.90
Gender (* p=.000):
Male 9 33 38 17 3 2.72
Female 4 23 40 28 5 3.08
Ethnicity (* p=.009):
Anglo 6 28 40 21 4 2.88
Minority 5 22 34 32 6 3.12
Household income(* p=.044):
Under $25K 3 25 38 27 7 3.08
$25K to $49.9K 7 26 44 19 4 2.87
$50K to $74.9K 6 30 38 21 4 2.86
$75K and over 6 31 37 24 2 2.84
Urban 8 28 33 26 5 2.93
Suburban 5 30 37 23 5 2.93
Rural 6 26 46 20 2 2.88
Religious orientation (* p=.000):
Fund./Evangelical 8 37 40 13 1 2.61
Mainstream 7 32 38 21 2 2.80
Liberal 2 18 43 29 8 3.23
<Jan. '06 Osama bin Laden tape (p=.151)</b>
Before release 7 29 42 18 4 2.83
After release 6 27 38 25 4 2.94
(The * notation next to demographic variables/questions denotes a statistically significant difference at the 95% level or greater from the US sample average/mean. The `p=' notation indicates the level of that significance. Any number under .05 is significant and the closer the value is to .000 the stronger the significance.)
The table shows there are statistically significant differences from the US average index score regarding region of the country, party registration, gender, ethnicity, income and religious orientation. Differences are not significant regarding residence and the OBL tape.
An easy way to see what's happening in the table is to look at the percentages and, by combining High and Severe, you can see the differences. 27% of US voters fall in the combined High/Severe end of the index. Voters in the South (22%) and Rockies (19%), Republicans (14%), men (20%), fundamentalist/evangelical (14%) and mainstream religious (23%) voters are least likely to follow suit. They simply are less worried about the threat of a terrorist attack.
Not so with voters in the Northeast (33%) and West Coast (31%), Democrats (40%), women (33%), minority voters (38%), those with the least household income (34%) and liberal religious voters. They are most likely to fall into the high end of the index.
Again the profile of voter division discussed in the MyDD Poll: Release 1 Detail post pops up. This also gets to Chris' insightful analysis from his post yesterday: Republicans are much more positive on the questions having to do with terrorist attack than are Democrats and, to a lesser degree, Independents.
The above shows this is the case in the additional slices of the two main voter profiles discussed yesterday. Those least concerned about a terrorist threat are not only Republicans, they are fundamentalist/evangelical voters, mainstream religious voters, voters in the South, Rockies and men. This is the `rose-colored glasses' group, as I described them. Voters most concerned fit the second profile, the `more measured' group: those in the Northeast, West Coast, Democrats, women, minority voters, those with the least income and those religiously liberal. Some might call them progressives, yes?
As a professional researcher, I'm also entitled to express my opinion about what all this means, as long as I specify that it's my opinion. And the following is my opinion about what we really see in these data.
On the rose-colored right-wing group, it's summarized in the popular `101st Fighting Keyboarders' concept. They talk the tough guy talk, but they don't walk the walk. They say they're tough on terrorism, but they really are not concerned, as we now see. Whether they feel secure because they tend to be affluent and can buy anti-anthrax pills or drive their SUV's out of the suburbs in an emergency or whether they are believers in impending Rapture or whatever is irrelevant. The fact shown above is they are less concerned about these issues than are most other Americans. They are wearing rose-colored glasses, especially when bin Laden declares "Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished, God willing.". There you go.
In the meantime, it is the progressive group that is actually focused on the threat of terrorism. They score significantly higher on the Index. They're more worried about an impending attack (see link above), more worried the US hasn't captured or killed bin Laden (see link above), more measured in their evaluation of post-9/11 federal efforts on the security front and more concerned about personal safety and security. See Chris' Second Release post. They're paying attention, clearly.
This situation benefits Bush and the right-wing mightily, I think. Their supporters are sanguine normally but, with a punch of the Homeland Security Advisory System they can crank them up dramatically, "Oh, my God", to generate vocal support for the Patriot Act, torture, whatever controversial action they want. And, at the same time, criticize progressives for being 'soft on terrorism'.
And in the 'off' periods, they can belittle and downplay progressives' insistence that all is not well. Changes need to happen. Now. Double-edged sword, you see. Sweet, very sweet. For them.
The question is how to combat it, turn it. In this regard, we'll be looking at directional indicators for progressive strategy in upcoming posts.
There you have it, folks, for now. The original Sun Tzu talked about understanding the battlefield before you know how to win. I hope we all know more about the battlefield now. It's complex, nuanced and we've got a ways to go before we can rest. In my view, Republican corruption and scandal will help us in November, but it doesn't solve the problem highlighted above.
Thoughts, comments welcome and appreciated.