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Poll: Trouble In The Air

In the aftermath of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, most Americans think the government and the airlines have not done enough to make flying safer, a CBS News poll finds.

Americans see gains in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and continue to give President Bush high marks for his handling of the war against terrorism. But more now say public criticism of the president is acceptable than thought so in the weeks following the September 11th attacks.

In polling conducted just after the Taliban's desertion of Kabul, 41 percent say the war is going very well, an increase from 25 percent two weeks ago.

A majority believes the response to the appearance of anthrax contamination was different on Capitol Hill than it was at the U.S. Postal Service because officials cared more about the workers in the U.S. Capitol than they did about Postal Service workers.

FEAR OF FLYING?

The public expresses frustrations with Congress, the government in general, and the airlines for not doing enough to make flying safer. The public's assessment of both the government's and the airlines' response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th has taken a sharp drop, after Monday's deadly crash of American Airlines Flight 587. Majorities say neither the government nor the airlines has done enough to improve airport security.

Thirty-seven percent now say the government has done enough to improve airline security, down from 51 percent last month. Just 28 percent say the airlines have done enough, a drop from 42 percent in the same period.

Congress also takes some blame for not passing airline security legislation. Although 48 percent believe Republicans and Democrats are working together to pass such legislation, 38 percent think the two parties are letting partisanship interfere with passing an airline security bill.

But just as Congress is divided, there is no consensus among the public as to how such legislation should be structured. Forty-five percent think security personnel should be hired and supervised by the federal government, and 42 percent think these employees should be hired by the airlines but supervised by the federal government.

And just as in Congress, there are partisan differences on this among the public. By 50 percent to 38 percent, Republicans prefer these employees to be hired by the airlines but supervised by the government. By 51 percent to 36 percent, Democrats prefer the plan supported by their party - that security personnel be federal employees.

The increased concern about airline security appears to be as much a reaction to Monday's crash as to any reported security breaches at airports. The public sees accidents, NOT hijacking or terrorism as the greater danger for airline passengers. In previous years, more people said hijacking was the bigger threat.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
BIGGER DANGER FOR PASSENGERS

 AccidentsHijacking/terrorism

55%

35%

CBSNEWS Polls

And the public views the cause of Monday's crash as some type of accident rather than terrorism, though some are not yet convinced. Fifty-one percent believe the crash was a tragic accident, and 12 percent think it was a deliberate criminal; 35 percent however, don't know enough to say.

The crash of Flight 587 directly impacts public perception of the airlines overall safety record and the government's safety regulations of the industry. Fifty-six percent say the overall safety record of the airlines is excellent or good - lower than at any other time this question has been asked by CBS News between 1985 and 1996. Most of those polls followed other airplane accidents. More than four in ten now think the airlines' safety record is only fair or poor.

And most Americans give the airlines only a fair or poor rating when it comes to following the government safety regulations that exist - worse than evaluations of airline performance just after the crash of TWA flight 800 in 1996.

Those who have flown since September 11th, however, are positive about wht they've seen at airports. Nearly all of those who have traveled by plane in the last two months say they've felt safe doing so. Eight in ten of the travelers describe airport security measures now as better than they were before the terrorist attacks.

HOLIDAY TRAVELING

There are a few more jitters among the traveling public now than there were even immediately after the September 11th hijackings. One in four Americans now admit to being afraid of flying, up from 21 percent and 22 percent in October and September. Just 42 percent say they are free of any fear of flying.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
FEELINGS ABOUT FLYING

 AfraidBothered slightlyNot afraid
Now

25%

31%

42%


 AfraidBothered slightlyNot afraid
October

21%

31%

46%


 AfraidBothered slightlyNot afraid
September

22%

33%

43%

CBSNEWS Polls

Women continue to be more nervous about flying than are men: 35 percent of women interviewed said they were afraid of flying, just 15 percent of men admitted it.

Eight percent of respondents said they have canceled a trip since the terrorist attacks. And it may be that Monday's crash has affected others. Fifteen percent say they expect to travel by plane this holiday season. Sixteen percent say they did so last year. Although slightly more in the October CBS News/New York Times poll said they expected to fly during the holidays, the difference is small and within the poll's sampling error.

WINNING THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN?

In the wake of the fall of Kabul and the desertion of that city by the Taliban, more Americans now think the U.S. is winning the war in Afghanistan. Still, the decline in confidence (which first registered a few weeks ago) that the U.S. will achieve its goals there persists.

Americans are now markedly more optimistic about how the war is going for the U.S. than they were just a few weeks ago. Now, 41 percent say it is going very well, and 48 percent say it is going somewhat well. Only 7 percent think it is going badly. These views are even more positive than those held immediately after the bombing began in early October. Then, 36 percent thought the war was going very well.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
HOW IS WAR GOING FOR U.S.?

 Very wellSomewhat wellSomewhat/very badly
Now

41%

48%

7%


 Very wellSomewhat wellSomewhat/very badly
10/25-28

25%

58%

13%


 Very wellSomewhat wellSomewhat/very badly
10/8

36%

44%

8%

CBSNEWS Polls

About half of Americans think that life for the people of Afghanistan will be better now that the Taliban have left Kabul. Twenty-nine percent think life will go on unchanged. Few expect life without the Taliban to be worse for the people there.

Public approval for the military attacks in Afghanistan has not changed since they began more than one month ago. Now, 89 percent approve, and 7 percent disapprove.

At the sam time, there are mixed expectations as to whether the U.S. will catch bin Laden or be able to maintain the support of other countries for the war.

One in three are very confident the U.S. will capture or kill bin Laden, and 37 percent are somewhat confident. Although those views are less optimistic than expectations just after the bombing campaign began, they are up slightly now that the Taliban have left Kabul.

But confidence in the ability of the government to maintain the international alliance of countries supporting U.S. military efforts is even lower than it was a few weeks ago. Now, just under a fourth are very confident the U.S. will be able to do so, and 59 percent are somewhat confident. That represents a sizable decrease since the attacks began in early October.

ANTHRAX, TERRORISM AND THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE

With no real progress being made in finding the source of the recent cases of anthrax, the public sees the government as ill-prepared for a bio-attack, and has little confidence they will be able to solve the crimes.

Government officials receive some criticism for the disparities in the way the anthrax outbreaks in Congress and the post offices were treated. Most of the public – 56 percent - thinks the reason behind the different treatment was because officials were more concerned about the workers on Capitol Hill than they were about postal workers. Thirty percent said the reason for the difference in treatment was because officials thought the risks were different.

Americans continue to express doubts as to whether the government is adequately informing them about the recent anthrax attacks. Forty percent think the government is telling people what they need to know, but even more, 55 percent, think it is not.

There have been no substantive leads in the case, and as a result public confidence in the government's ability to catch those responsible for sending anthrax through the mail has decreased. Eighteen percent are very confident the government will do so, down from 23 percent late last month. Forty-three percent are somewhat confident. And the number saying the have little or no confidence in the government doing so has risen, from 27 percent to 37 percent now.

But many Americans remain confident the government will protect them from terrorist attacks in general. Now, 22 percent have a great deal of confidence; about one month ago, 30 percent did. About one in four have not much confidence. That has changed little from a few weeks ago, when confidence declined sharply.

Lack of preparedness is another area in which the public expresses disappointment with the federal government. Thirty-one percent think the government in Washington has done enough to prepare for a biological attack, but a majority – 55 percent - think it has not. That has changed little in the past two weeks.

Despite these concerns, 72 percent approve of the way the federal government is handlng the anthrax attacks, and 21 percent disapprove.

Several weeks ago, the government issued warnings about possible attacks, while providing no additional information. This poll indicates that most Americans welcome such information, even if it is vague. Sixty-six percent say they think it is a good idea for the government to issue warnings to the public about possible terrorist attacks, even if they don't have specific information. Twenty-eight percent think this is not a good idea.

Concerns about a terrorist attack remains at levels seen just a few weeks ago, after steady declines since September 11th. Just over one in four Americans are now very concerned about an attack in their area.

THE PRESIDENT

President Bush receives credit for the strides the U.S. is making in its war with Afghanistan. Eighty-five percent now approve of the job the president is doing handling the war against terrorism, up from 79 percent at the end of October.

His overall job approval rating remains near the high level it has been since the terrorist attacks. Now, 85 percent approve of the job he is doing, and 7 percent disapprove.

Perhaps because the U.S. is thought to be doing well and the threat of terrorism is receding somewhat, or because there has been public criticism of government's actions on the homefront, Americans have become more comfortable with the idea of criticizing the president. Sixty-seven percent think it is acceptable to criticize him on domestic and economic issues, and 55 percent think it is okay to criticize him on military issues. Earlier in October, fewer thought it was okay to do either.

GOVERNMENT

Positive views of government in general have also dramatically improved. Fifty-five percent think the government has a positive impact on people's daily lives, and only 15 percent think it has a negative impact. Those are the most positive views of government recorded in the five years the CBS News poll has been asking this question.

These views are influenced by party affiliation, and in a surprising way. Republicans, not Democrats, are more likely to see more personal benefits from government. By just under ten to one, Republicans see government as having a positive impact on their lives. Democrats share that view by just over three to one.

In late October, public perceptions that the country is moving in the right direction increased sharply, and remain high now, though not at the peak recorded by the polls soon after the attack. Sixty-one percent think things in this country are going in the right direction, and 30 percent think things are off on the wrong track.

There are partisan differences here as well. By a large margin, Republicans see the country as heading in the right direction; 77 percent think this is the case, and 16 percent think the country is off on the wrong track. But opinion among Democrats is more evenly split; 47 percent think the country is headed in the ight direction, and 44% think it's on the wrong track.

RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin's friendship with President Bush, as seen in this week's 3-day summit, is reflected in more positive public attitudes towards U.S.-Russia relations. Eight in ten Americans now have a friendly image of Russia. More than twice as many now think of Russia as an ally of the United States as did just half a year ago in a Gallup poll. Twenty-five percent now consider Russia an ally of the United States; 55 percent say it is friendly but not an ally, while only one in ten think of Russia as unfriendly or an enemy.

THE UNITED NATIONS

The public also gives the United Nations significantly higher marks for the job it is doing in trying to solve the problems in the world. More than six in ten say the United Nations is doing a good job solving the problems it has had to face, and 27 percent say it is doing a bad job. In 1995, only 42 percent said the United Nations was doing a good job of solving the problems, and 46 percent said it was doing a bad job.

BACK TO NORMAL

Despite urges by government leaders for citizens to return to their normal lives, some Americans think it is still too soon for that. Although more people think the U.S. is ready now to return to business as usual than thought so just days after the terrorist attacks, that number has dropped since late September.

Now, half of Americans think the country is ready to return to business, while 44 percent think it is too soon. In late September, before any anthrax was discovered in the mail, as many as two-thirds said the country was ready to return to business as usual and only a quarter thought it was too soon for that.

Americans seem to have prepared themselves for a long recovery process. Now 88 percent of those who think it is too soon for the U.S. to return to business as usual say it will take the country several months or longer to do so; only 4 percent say the country will be ready in the next few weeks. Two weeks after the terrorist attacks in September, two-thirds said the country was ready to return to business as usual, and nearly half of those who thought it was not ready said the country will be ready in the very near future - in the next few days or the next few weeks.

THE ECONOMY

Perceptions of the economy are virtually unchanged from three weeks ago. Now, 51 percent of Americans think the economy is in good shape, and 46 percent think it is in bad shape. The dramatic improvement in the perceptions of the economy we saw right after the U.S. began attacks on Afghanistan seems to have all but disappeared.

And despite the recent stock market rebound, Americans remain worried about the economic outlook. Thirty-nine percent now think the economy is getting worse - about same number said so three weeks ago. Seventeen percent say it is getting better, and 41 percent think it is staying the same.


Thi poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 805 adults, interviewed by telephone November 13-14, 2001. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

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