WASHINGTON -- A majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction and that their own finances will get better, an Associated Press poll says. But they also fear more terrorist attacks are likely in 2002.
Seven in 10 Americans believe there will be another terrorist attack in the near future, although their worry is less intense than it was a few months ago, according to the AP poll.
"I think terrorism is not done yet, we have to be a little leery," said Ron Kaiser, a 33-year-old employee of a medical products company in Buffalo, N.Y. "I think we're too sophisticated a country to miss a major attack coming. It's more likely to be little things, like things in the mail."
The number of people who believe a terrorist attack is "very likely" in the near future has dropped by half -- from 48 percent to 23 percent -- since October, according to the poll taken for The AP by ICR of Media, Pa. An additional 47 percent in the new poll thought another terrorist attack was "somewhat likely."
The poll of 1,013 people, taken Dec. 14-18, has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The interviews were conducted before the arrest of a man on a Paris-to-Miami flight who allegedly had bombs in his shoes. Several people surveyed said in follow-up interviews that arrest hadn't changed their view about the likelihood of future attacks.
While they remain worried about terrorism, Americans are increasingly optimistic about the direction of the country. More than half -- 56 percent -- said they think the country is headed in the right path. A year ago, slightly more people thought the country was on the wrong track than felt it was headed in the correct direction.
"I feel the country is on the road to recovery, both from economic troubles as well as the terrorist attacks. Things are looking up," said Rick Sergeant, 40, a contractor in Grand Junction, Tenn. "There's still going to be a concerted effort to execute terrorist attacks."
Variations on opinions
The question about the country's direction drew differing responses depending on gender, race and political affiliation.
Men were more likely than women -- 60 percent compared with 50 percent -- to think the country is headed in the right direction, and whites were three times as likely as blacks to think so. Three-fourths of Republicans felt the country is headed in the right direction, while half of Democrats and fewer than half of independents felt that way.
"We're absolutely on the wrong track," said Lois Kain, a Democratic retiree from Santa Maria, Calif. "There are no peace talks going on anywhere in the world. Now, Pakistan and India are squaring off. We had better pay more attention to the poor people, or we're going to be in deep trouble."
Retired policeman George Zigler, a Republican from Cape May, N.J., feels good about the country's direction, despite concerns about terrorist attacks.
"I think we're headed in the right direction," he said. "Bush is a real good guy, he knows what he's doing. This stuff's been building up, but he'll get us out of it. But I don't think the terrorists are done, something else will happen."
Those who considered themselves very confident in the government's ability to protect citizens from terrorists attack was up slightly -- from 30 percent in October to 37 percent.
"Everyone's confidence in our government is rising," said Shelly Conlin, a 29-year-old Las Vegas restaurant worker. Even though she said she felt secure, she didn't feel safe enough to go to the Vegas strip on New Year's Eve.
More than half in the poll -- 52 percent -- felt their own family's financial situation would improve in the coming year, up from about a third who felt that way a year ago.
"From what I see, things look very positive," said Belinda Bishop, a mother of three and a shipping clerk in Plymouth, Ohio. "At my workplace, things are busy, people are working overtime."
But people were about evenly split on whether putting $1,000 in the stock market was a good or bad idea -- about the same split as a year ago.
For some, being optimistic is the best way to cope.
"At first, I was a little afraid, thinking the world was falling apart," said Bishop, recalling the days after the Sept. 11 attacks. "But I'm going to have a positive attitude because we have to."
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 63 percent of Americans believe that changes resulting from the Sept. 11 attacks have been for the better, with some respondents suggesting that it drew Americans together and reinforced their values.
That Dec. 18-19 poll, with an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points, found that 68 percent of Americans expect the war on terrorism to drain resources from other pressing national needs.