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Poll: Compassion remains

©Washington Post

September 11, 2002


Although the imprint of Sept. 11 on the public is fading, it remains visible in many of the ways Americans think about their country, their leaders and themselves, according to a Washington Post survey.

Although the imprint of Sept. 11 on the public is fading, it remains visible in many of the ways Americans think about their country, their leaders and themselves, according to a Washington Post survey.

Public support for the military, which surged after the terrorist attacks, has not wavered in the intervening months and may even be increasing.

Feelings of patriotism and national pride remain strong.

Most surprising, America still basks in the glow fueled by the heroism and everyday acts of selflessness and charitable giving that followed Sept. 11.

About six in 10 Americans say that most of the time people "try to be helpful," a view shared by fewer than half of those questioned in a survey conducted a year before the attacks.

Americans are also significantly more likely to say that people are "fair" than they were before Sept. 11 -- an unexpected renewal of faith in humanity that has largely persisted during the past 12 months.

"This crisis brought out the best in America -- and made it better," said Amitai Etzioni, former president of the American Sociological Association and a professor at George Washington University.

But the survey also found that many attitudes that changed dramatically in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 have largely changed back.

President Bush's job approval rating, which soared to record heights, has lost much of that increase and continues a steady decline.

The public's trust in the federal government doubled to its highest point in nearly four decades, but now is not much higher than it was two years ago.

An overwhelming majority of Americans said the country was headed in the right direction in the days after the attack. Today, a small majority believe the country is "pretty seriously off on the wrong track," according to the poll.

Even Americans' sense that the country was permanently changed by Sept. 11 appears to be eroding. Eight in 10 -- 83 percent -- believe the attacks "changed this country in a lasting way," down from 91 percent in December. Six in 10 said Sept. 11 had permanently changed their personal lives. Half of those whose lives had been affected said the changes were for the better. The other half said those changes were for the worse -- nearly double the proportion who had expressed that view 10 months ago.

"I was flying before. I haven't flown since," said Anatoly Savich, 28, a furnituremaker who lives in Syracuse, N.Y., and is a native of Ukraine. "Before, we lived not worrying about anything. But now, I have fear of going to another country, even my home country."

By a 2 to 1 margin, those who said their lives had been altered said it mainly affected the way they thought about things, and not how they lived.

"I just think how it makes you realize that you do have to appreciate the things you have in the right now, because you don't know how long you will have them and when it will be changed," said Anne Imhoff, 54, a bookkeeper from Fort Thomas, Ky.

A total of 1,003 randomly selected adults was interviewed Sept. 3-6 for this survey. Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey was designed to see how Sept. 11 continues to affect Americans' thinking about their country and its institutions. It included many questions first asked in Post polls conducted immediately after Sept. 11, as well as selected questions from other major surveys.

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