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According to a recent survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the percent of Republicans who believe Islamic fundamentalism poses a critical threat to the United States is at its highest point since the Council first asked the question in 1998—even higher than after the September 11 attacks in 2001. The June 10-27 survey found that 75 percent of self-described Republicans see Islamic fundamentalism as a critical threat, up from 70 percent in 2002 (the first time the question was asked after 9/11) and 66 percent in 2015.

Only half of Democrats (49 percent) identified Islamic fundamentalism as a critical threat. Overall, 59 percent of Americans see it as a critical threat.

The survey asked participants to rank a list of possible threats to the vital interest of the United States over the next 10 years as either critical threats, important but not critical threats or not an important threat at all. The list included threats such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, global warming, an international financial crisis, Russia’s territorial ambitions and China’s military power.

Just ahead of Islamic fundamentalism, the American public ranked international terrorism as the most critical threat facing the United States (75 percent ranked it as a critical threat), followed by unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers (61 percent).

International Terrorism America’s Most Critical Threat

  • Americans rank international terrorism as the most important threat facing the United States, including both Republicans (83 percent ranked it as a critical threat) and Democrats (74 percent).
  • Combating international terrorism also ranked as a very important foreign policy goal of the United States (72 percent overall say it is very important, with 81 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats agreeing).
  • Islamic fundamentalism is seen as a critical threat by 59 percent of Americans, with a majority of Republicans saying so (75 percent) compared to half of Democrats (49 percent).

Americans Think Acts of Terror Here to Stay

  • Eighty-nine percent of Americans say it is at least somewhat likely that occasional acts of terrorism will be a part of life in the future (48 percent say it is very likely, 41 percent say it is at least somewhat likely).
  • Americans increasingly think the United States is less safe than before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Forty-two percent of all Americans think the country is less safe now (53 percent Republicans versus only 34 percent Democrats), compared to 27 percent of all Americans when the question was asked in 2014.

Almost All Options on the Table in Combating Terrorism

When asked about the effectiveness of specific actions to combat terrorism, Americans considered almost every option effective. However, there are major partisan differences on the use of torture, as well as on the perceived effectiveness of limiting the flow of migrants and refugees and increasing border controls.

  • Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Republicans consider torture effective, but only one-third (33 percent) of Democrats do (45 percent of Americans overall think it is effective).
  • Limiting the flow of migrants and refugees and increasing border controls are seen as effective ways to combat terrorism by 79 percent of Republicans but only 44 percent of Democrats (57 percent of Americans overall think it is effective).
  • Blocking terrorist financing is considered the most effective method of combating terrorism by majorities of both parties, with 78 percent support from all Americans.
  • All other options were thought to be effective in combating terrorism by majorities in both parties (ordered by decreasing rank of perceived effectiveness): airstrikes by drones/unmanned aircraft, airstrikes by manned aircraft, sending U.S. trainers and special forces, and sending U.S. combat troops. Full support figures for each option may be found in the charts below.

Orlando Attack Increased Worry about Islamic Fundamentalism among Democrats

The Orlando attack took place while the Council survey was being conducted (804 respondents completed the survey before the attack and 1,257 after).

  • The attack increased Democrats’ concerns over Islamic fundamentalism from 40 percent before the attack to 55 percent after. There was minimal movement in Republican concerns (74 percent before, 76 percent after).
  • The event had minimal impact on the rankings of international terrorism as a critical threat (the survey registered a 4 percent increase in those who took the survey after the attack).
  • The event had virtually no impact on respondents’ presidential candidate preference. 

About the Chicago Council Survey

The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 10 and June 27, 2016, among a national sample of 2,061 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges ±2.2 to ±3.5 percentage points, depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups (Democrats: ±3.6 to ±5.2; Republicans: ±4.1 to ±5.7; Independents: ±3.7 to ±5.3). Partisan identification is based on respondents’ answer to a standard partisan self-identification question: “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or what?”

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.