Six in Ten Americans Say U.S. Weakened Its Economy by Overspending in Response to 9/11

Six in Ten Americans Say U.S. Weakened Its Economy by Overspending in Response to 9/11

September 8, 2011

Two in Three Say U.S. Power Has Declined as a Result of America’s Response to 9/11

Full report (PDF)
Questionnaire with findings (PDF)

Six in ten Americans believe that that the U.S. weakened its economy by overspending in its responses to the 9/11 attacks. In particular, respondents felt this was especially true of the U.S. mission in Iraq. Two out of three Americans perceive that over the decade since 9/11, U.S. power and influence in the world has declined. This view is highly correlated with the belief that the U.S. overspent in its post-9/11 response efforts — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, American views of Islam have grown more negative. However, views of Arab and Muslim people are moderately warm, and majorities continue to feel that the attacks of 9/11 do not represent mainstream thinking within Islam and that it is possible to find common ground between Islam and the West.

When asked what they think of the Obama administration’s plan to strengthen the Afghan army while reducing U.S. forces and attempting negotiations with the Taliban, 69% say they approve.

These are some of the findings of a new poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. The polling project was directed by Steven Kull, Director of PIPA, and Shibley Telhami, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and the Anwar Sadat Professor at the University of Maryland.

The poll of 957 Americans has a margin of error +/-3.2% and was fielded August 19-25 by Knowledge Networks.

Though 50% of Americans think the U.S. over invested in the Afghan war, 57% still see the initial decision to enter Afghanistan as the right thing to do. At this point, a large majority (73%) wants the U.S. to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan, but less than half (44%) want troops withdrawn completely.

Fifty-five percent say that the U.S. has spent too many resources in the Iraq war, while a plurality of 49% called the Iraq war a mistake (45% right decision). This criticism is a bit lower than other polls that asked similar questions in 2010 and found a majority ranging from 51 to 62% saying that it was not the right decision.

Support for the decision to go to war is highly correlated with beliefs held by substantial and undiminishing minorities that Iraq was providing support to al Qaeda (46%) and either had a WMD program or actual WMDs (47%). Among those with such beliefs, large majorities say the war was the right thing while among those without such beliefs large majorities have the opposite views.

A modest majority (53%) believes that the U.S. should withdraw its troops according to schedule even if the Iraqi government asks the US to stay another year.

“Americans clearly are looking for the U.S. to ramp down the military operations and significantly reduce costs related to its post-9/11 actions,” Steven Kull said.

In October 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, an ABC News poll showed that a plurality of Americans (47%) had a favorable opinion of Islam, while 39% had an unfavorable response. Over the subsequent years, when the same question was asked, the favorable number declined. In the current poll, only a third (33%) had a generally favorable opinion, while six in ten had an unfavorable opinion.

However a 53% majority say they have a favorable view of Arab people and a plurality of 49% say they have a favorable view of Muslim people in general.

“This is an interesting finding that contrasts with more negative views of the Muslim religion. We don’t fully know if the positive view of the Arab peoples is partly a function of the mostly peaceful Arab uprisings, but from indicators in an earlier poll, we suspect that these uprisings had a positive impact,” said Shibley Telhami.

In addition, a stable majority continues to think that the 9/11 attacks do not represent mainstream Islam. A robust 73% said the terrorists who conducted the 9/11 attacks were “part of a radical fringe”; only 22% said the terrorists’ views are close to the mainstream teachings of Islam. Fifty-nine percent say it is possible to find common ground between Islam and the West (down from 68% in a 2001 PIPA poll taken shortly after 9/11).

Americans’ most widely held picture now of the ongoing events of the Arab Spring is that they are about both a struggle for democracy and an effort by Islamist groups to seek political power–a view held by 45%. Thirty-three percent said the uprisings are “more about ordinary people seeking freedom and democracy,” while 17% thought the Arab Spring is “more about Islamist groups seeking political power.”

A majority (56%) feels the events of the Arab Spring have not increased the risk of a terrorist attack on the United States, including 10% who think it has decreased the risk. About a third (36%) thinks the risk has increased because of the uprisings.

Six in ten see the Arab-Israeli conflict as one of the five most important issues for U.S. interests. A clear majority (61%) says that the U.S. should not take sides in its efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while just 27% want the U.S. to lean toward Israel (5% toward Palestinians).

The partisan divide here is strong: while large majorities of Democrats (71%) and independents (67%) want the U.S. to not lean toward either side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is true of just 45% of Republicans, while 50% say the U.S. should lean toward Israel.

This study was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Persons in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate, but do not already have Internet access, Knowledge Networks provides a laptop and ISP connection. Additional technical information is available at


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