Public hit by ‘terror fatigue’

Polls find concern about terrorism has flagged across the world.

EVEN as details were emerging of a major plot to blow up flights from London to the United States recently, a global survey has found waning concern about terrorism among those polled.

An ACNielsen survey of about 22,000 people in 40 countries, including Singapore, revealed that concern had fallen since 2004.

The public apathy was most striking, ironically, in the United States – which has suffered the most devastating terrorist attack yet – where a poll by the Pew Research Centre showed that only 2 per cent felt terrorism was an issue worth discussing in the run-up to the November mid-term elections.

The Pew survey, results of which were released on Thursday, was largely conducted after revelations of a big terror plot in Britain which allegedly involved bombing several transatlantic planes en route to America. The ACNielsen survey was carried out in June.

But many experts are not surprised by the findings of the two surveys because of “fatigue” with the issue and the fact that many countries have more pressing concerns.

As Mr Paul O’Sullivan, director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, noted in May: “The issue of terrorism has rarely been far from centre stage in the media, but Australia has not experienced a recent attack. “So it is almost inevitable that a type of ‘terrorism fatigue’ would set in.” Others argue that some countries might just be overwhelmed by other priorities.

Terrorism expert Sidney Jones told The Straits Times: “In Indonesia, for example, there is a whole string of other things such as natural disasters and the economy that displace terrorism as a priority for the people and its government.”

Indeed, in the country’s 2004 presidential elections, just 1 per cent of voters saw it as an issue of concern, she added.

The Pew survey, which quizzed 1,506 American adults between Aug 9 and 13, found no evidence that terrorism was weighing heavily on voters’ minds.

Far fewer people wanted to hear candidates discussing the issue than the number who said they wanted education, health care or spiralling oil prices talked about.

Interestingly, the extensive public attention given to the London terror plot, revealed on Aug 10 near the beginning of the survey period, did not cause a sharp spike in public fears here.

In interviews conducted after the British revelations, only a quarter of Pew respondents said they were “very worried” there would soon be another terrorist attack on American soil.

By comparison, 17 per cent of those interviewed the day before the plot was revealed were concerned. Pew noted that this small rise was similar to those measured in previous cases, most notably before and after the London and Madrid bombings.

The ACNielsen findings almost mirrored that of Pew’s.

According to the ACNielsen poll, only 6 per cent of people saw terrorism as their biggest worry.

This was a steep decline, compared to 16 per cent when the poll was conducted last November.

Among Singaporeans, the level of anxiety has also fallen significantly since the end of last year. Then, more than three in 10 respondents said they were concerned, but this dropped to 16 per cent this year.

Nevertheless, Singapore was still among the top 10 countries in the world that rated terrorism as a major concern.

Across all regions, North Americans were the most concerned about terrorism, with 19 per cent citing it as a source of worry.

Europe followed with 15 per cent and Asia with 8 per cent.

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