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Threat Perceptions in the United States and Canada

Threat Perceptions in the United States and Canada

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Published by The Wilson Center
This publication explores how Canadians and Americans appreciate and perceive threats to their respective countries, to their national security, and to their societies’ psyche. It is the perceptions of threat, rather than the true, statistical incidence of it, that drives public opinion. Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute and Frank Graves of EKOS Research Associates explore the public’s perceptions of threats and attitudes toward security in both the United States and Canada.
Bowman examines public opinion trends in the United States, noting that the September 11 terrorist attacks catapulted terrorism to the forefront of the U.S. public’s assessment of threats. The terrorist threat has in turn informed opinion toward a host of other issues, including new government powers, privacy questions, and foreign policy issues. Graves discusses how Canadians have reacted to new government powers and security policies, while reflecting on the implications for North America more generally.
This publication explores how Canadians and Americans appreciate and perceive threats to their respective countries, to their national security, and to their societies’ psyche. It is the perceptions of threat, rather than the true, statistical incidence of it, that drives public opinion. Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute and Frank Graves of EKOS Research Associates explore the public’s perceptions of threats and attitudes toward security in both the United States and Canada.
Bowman examines public opinion trends in the United States, noting that the September 11 terrorist attacks catapulted terrorism to the forefront of the U.S. public’s assessment of threats. The terrorist threat has in turn informed opinion toward a host of other issues, including new government powers, privacy questions, and foreign policy issues. Graves discusses how Canadians have reacted to new government powers and security policies, while reflecting on the implications for North America more generally.

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Published by: The Wilson Center on Sep 18, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/24/2013

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One Issue,Two Voices
THE CANADA INSTITUTE
In this fourth issue ofthe Canada Institute’s
One Issue,TwoVoices
publication series,authors Karlyn Bowman oftheAmerican Enterprise Institute and Frank Graves of EKOS Research Associates explore the public’s percep-tions ofthreats and security issues in both the UnitedStates and Canada.As with past issues in the series,thispublication brings expertise from both sides ofthe bor-der to address policy-relevant questions ofsignificance tothe bilateral relationship.This publication explores how Canadians andAmericans appreciate and perceive threats to their respective countries,to their national security,and totheir societies’psyche.It is the perceptions ofthreat,rather than the true,statistical incidence ofit,thatdrives public opinion.Some policy differences between the twoneighbors are noteworthy,such as the disagree-ment over ballistic missile defense or the war inIraq.But so too are moves to enact compara-ble legislation—the Anti-Terrorsim Act inCanada and the Patriot Act in the UnitedStates.To what extent do perceptions of threats in each country explain simi-lar approaches on public safety butdifferent opinions regardingforeign and defense policy?In her essay,KarlynBowman examinespublic opiniontrends in the United States,noting that the September 11terrorist attacks catapulted terrorism to the forefront oftheU.S.public’s assessment ofthreats.Frank Graves explainsthat Canadians,too,were affected by September 11th,if less directly,in their own assessment ofsecurity risks.Eachauthor discusses how the public has reacted to new gov-ernment powers and security policies.In their responses toeach other,they draw attention to similarities betweenboth countries,but also identify some key differences.The Canada Institute thanks both authors for their contributions to a key topic in the ongoing bilateral dia-logue.We would also like to thank the Canada Institute onNorth American Issues for their support ofthe
One Issue,Two Voices
series.The Canada Institute will hold a confer-ence at the Wilson Center in Washington,D.C.onNovember 10,2005 to launch this publication.Theauthors and guest panelists will discuss the policy implica-tions ofthreat perceptions,incorporating findings frompolling data taken since the summer of2005,when thispublication went to press.A webcast ofthe conferencewill be broadcast live and then archived on our website,www.wilsoncenter.org/canada.We look forward to your reactions on a topic thatpromises to remain relevant for some time yet—and apotent source ofideas for bilateral dialogue.
Christophe J. Leroy 
Program Associate, Canada InstituteOctober 2005
ISSUE FOUR
Threat Perceptions in theUnited States and Canada
Assessing the public’s attitudes toward security and risk in North America
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Threat Perceptions in the United States and Canada
Third,Americans believe that U.S.military strength should be second tonone.Since the 1980s,in most polls,that view has included soft support for amissile defense system—an issue aboutwhich U.S.and Canadian publics differ.The military is the most popular institu-tion in American life.Scandals aboutprocurement,sexual harassment,andeven Abu Ghraib have little effect on themilitary’s standing,because,in the pub-lic’s mind,the military’s mission is clear-ly defined and people believe it carriesout that mission well and deals forth-rightly with problems.Since the 1930s,Gallup has askedAmericans to volunteer what they thinkis the most important problem facingthe country.Their responses provide aunique historical record.BeforeSeptember 11,in dozens ofiterations of the question,terrorism was rarely men-tioned,and when it was (usually around the time ofa terrorist attack abroad),onlysmall numbers volunteered it.After September 11,terrorism was the top problem for many months.In Gallup’s latest asking ofthe question,from August 2005,27 percentsaid the war in Iraq was the country’s top problem,followed by the economy (13 per-cent) and terrorism (10 percent).“Terrorism”made its first appearance in the Chicago Council ofForeign Relationspoll series in 1986 when 20 percent volunteered it as one ofthe country’s “two or three biggest foreign policy problems.In the Council’s quadrennial surveys,two per-cent volunteered it in 1992,one percent in 1994,and 12 percent in 1998.Terrorismwas emerging as an issue ofconcern,but concern about it only ticked up when thepollsters asked about it in proximity to a terrorist attack.In 1998,for the first time in the Council’s surveys,“combating international terror-ism”was included in a list offoreign policy goals.Seventy-nine percent described it asvery important.In another question,84 percent described international terrorism as a“critical threat,followed by chemical and biological weapons (76 percent).These were
Perceptions ofthe terrorist threat grew slowly before September 11.Today that threat is part ofeveryday life,and Americans expectanother attack on their soil.
Security check point—now ubiquitous across North America.

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