Democracy and Homeland Security: Strategies, Controversies,
Part I. Papers Presented in Panels 1–4
11, 2001, and Public Opinion: A Commentary
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, purveyors of mainstream
American news sources likely drew two conclusions: first, that President
Bush and his administration were enjoying extraordinarily high approval ratings
(Duffy and Gibbs 2001; Glaberson 2001; Sperling 2002), and second, that Americans
felt a renewed—if not universally targeted—sense of patriotism (Kaufmann
2001; Leonard 2001). An article published on September 16, 2001, in the New York Times exemplified
much of this coverage, stating, “the crisis has spurred the public to put
aside its past reservations about the leadership of President Bush and instead
to rally wholeheartedly behind the relatively new president and express confidence
in his ability to guide the nation. His job approval rating has soared to
84 percent” (Berke and Elder 2001, 6). Referencing polling data and the dramatic
surge in sales of patriotic symbols, other reports concluded that patriotism
and solidarity were on the rise (Pignataro 2001; Hopkins 2001; Leonard 2001;
Herel 2001) but that these sentiments did not always extend to Muslims and
Arab Americans (El Sway 2001; Rodriguez 2001).
Existing academic literature on public opinion and 9/11
paints a more nuanced portrait. When measured by public opinion surveys,
there is little doubt that after September 11, President Bush enjoyed the
highest level of general approval of any modern president (Huddy et al. 2002a;
Hetherington and Nelson 2003; Gaines 2002). However, scholarship questions
the onus for this rally around the president (Schubert, Stewart, and Curran
2002), how long it will last (Moore 2002), and whether it is synonymous with
support for subsequent administrative policy proposals (O’Brien and Rothstein
2004). Empirical treatments of presidential approval following 9/11 thus
call into question whether the American populace truly issued the administration
carte blanche for future political action. Ambivalence existed. The public
generally supported the president, but this support was conditional and did
not necessarily extend into all policy arenas.
On the issue of solidarity and American identity, existing
research reiterates points made in the mainstream press: Americans voiced
more patriotism, but notions of “us” sometimes excluded Muslims and Arab
Americans (Schildkaut 2002). However, the notion of a unified “us” unblemished
by Myradal’s color line is problematized by this literature. Many African
Americans reported DuBoisian reactions to 9/11 whereby the difficulty of
balancing one’s “American” identity with the experiences of civil rights
abuses were made highly salient by September 11 (Gilmore 2003). These differentiated
responses are witnessed in polling data showing that African Americans were
less willing to trade civil liberties for “antiterror” policies post-9/11
and were similarly less supportive of proposals giving government more surveillance
power when compared to whites (Davis and Silver 2004; O’Brien and Rothstein
2004). These more critical responses undermine any notion that Americans
responded in a singular fashion to 9/11.
Other more general properties of public opinion were also
witnessed (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996). For example, civic engagement
and trust in government both rose substantially (Traugott et al. 2002; Skocpol
2002). Nonetheless, misinformation characterized many views. As the fallout
from 9/11 continued, many Americans believed there was hard evidence linking
Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein and that weapons of mass destruction were
found in Iraq (Jones 2002; Kull, Ramsay, and Lewis 2003–04; Moeller 2004).
Citizens endorsing these views were subsequently more supportive of the executive
administration (Kull et al. 2004).
The picture that emerges from these findings is thus one
of an ambivalent American public. Characteristics that normally condition
public opinion—like misperceptions and demographic differences in opinion—were
witnessed in 9/11 responses. Unique patterns also emerged. Citizens reported
surges in civic engagement and general support for the president. Simultaneously,
many took more critical views of the administration’s subsequent policy proposals—especially
African Americans. The notions of solidarity, so often referenced in the
popular press, actually buttressed against increased prejudice toward Arabs,
Arab Americans, and Muslims. Sizable minorities also questioned whether the
brand of patriotism and solidarity being given the most voice was normatively
productive and demographically inclusive. All this undermines the notion
of a solidaristic political community singularly united behind governmental
Collectively the three chapters that fall under the panel
titled “September 11, 2001, and Public Opinion” build on the above themes
while pushing scholarship forward. Gone is the sole focus on American public
opinion in the wake of September 11. Public opinion is conceptualized more
broadly to include citizens outside of the United
States. By placing groups traditionally denied political
and social voice center stage in the analysis, the tendency to discuss public
opinion about 9/11 without looking for subgroup differences is also lessened.
Methodologically, these three chapters move beyond analyzing singular cross-sectional
survey instruments. When read in tandem with existing work, these chapters
highlight how disparate methodological approaches more fully illuminate public
opinion. Collectively, then, these chapters represent a step forward in understanding
how public opinion was formulated and voiced after September 11, 2001.
The Chapters Themselves
Several general themes link each chapter, chief among them
social and political relevance in the post-9/11 environment. Shiekh’s chapter, “9/11
Detainees and Deportees: Are They Transforming Images of the United States?” examines how visions of the United States evolved
abroad in response to American policies of deportation and detention. Shiekh
interviewed fifty deportees and detainees from India, Pakistan, Egypt,
and Turkey who were forced to return to their home
countries after 9/11, as well as their friends and family members. Ethnographic
interviews were conducted during fieldwork in each of these countries. This
strategy of data collection provides unique insight into public opinion post-9/11:
the paper conceptualizes public opinion beyond the borders of the United
States and looks at how U.S. policy
following September 11 reconstituted images of America in world opinion. Among deportees and
detainees, Shiekh finds ambivalent responses toward the United States. Most of the
interviewees want to return to the United States because of economic opportunity.
Selective deportation for relatively minor offenses produces skeptical views
true commitment to the values it purports to embrace.
Many deportees also report being too ashamed or embarrassed
to share their experiences with friends and family in their home countries.
This combines with a fear of retribution if they share their experiences.
Shiekh’s analysis points to how these responses prevent deportees and detainees
from developing a shared injustice frame and engaging in collective action.
Yet she also notes how those who shared their experiences were embraced by
local communities and how the vision of the United States they detail permeates social networks.
The long-term consequences of these findings are discussed in light of the
Department of Homeland Security’s formal mission statement.
Walker’s chapter, “Two
Years Later: Children’s Understanding of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks,” also
relies on interviews to gauge public opinion. She conducted in-depth interviews
with children of various ages to address two research questions. First, how
do children describe the events of September 11 two years after the fact?
Specifically, how much knowledge do they have and what characterizes this
knowledge? Second, where did this information come from—particularly what
role, if any, did the media play? Walker finds that knowledge and descriptions of 9/11 vary considerably
by age. Older cohorts voiced more nuanced opinions. Those children under
6 who held opinions typically described planes crashing into buildings and
how people were hurt. Blame was placed on “bad guys,” which usually meant
Osama bin Laden. Children between ages 7 and 10 discussed the locale of the
attacks more, the deaths that ensued, and the general destruction. Perceived
motivations for 9/11 varied from anger at the United States to poverty
in the hijackers’ home countries. Adolescents relied more on cultural explanations
and U.S. foreign
policy decisions when explaining what motivated the attacks and, like their
younger counterparts, focused on the destruction that followed. Among each
age, Walker found a subset of “critical
responses” that questioned how U.S. actions might have contributed
to motivation for the 9/11 attacks, as well as confusion between Osama bin
Laden and Saddam Hussein. Several children used the two figures interchangeably.
This mirrors the confusion found among adults.
The chapter then documents how television was more influential
for opinion formulation among older cohorts. Walker thus found that many children had distinct public opinions
two years after September 11, many were quite nuanced, some were critical
of the United States, misperceptions were prevalent, and television mattered
most for older children. The piece concludes by discussing potential long-term
political consequences when children share a collective victimization in
their formative years.
The final chapter from Spirek builds on Walker’s emphasis on the media in opinion formulation. Spirek set
out to do a meta-analysis of the potential effects of media consumption on
attitudes about those living inside and outside the United States. These research
questions tap into issues of solidarity, construction of “other,” and the
reconstitution of the political community. Spirek was interested in whether
American citizens created “us v. them” dichotomies when making sense of September
11. Essentially, did a new racial hierarchy develop? Did individuals differentiate
between Muslims, Arabs, Arab Americans, and those who carried out the mission
on 9/11? Were these disparate groups unjustly linked? However, Spirek’s analysis
cannot answer these important questions. Despite the numerous studies done
addressing September 11 and public opinion, not one meets her broadly conceived
search criteria. Ultimately, then, Spirek’s piece provides testament to the
deep but rather narrow range of inquiry into “public opinion and September
11.” The chapter bears witness to why both Walker’s and Shiekh’s chapters
are innovative contributions. Make no mistake; the published work to date
is nuanced and important. It asks socially and politically pressing research
questions. But Spirek’s chapter lends credence to the idea that numerous
important research questions remain.
Links Across Shiekh, Walker, Spirek, and Existing Scholarship
Individually each of these chapters clearly offers much
insight. As a collective, five links emerge. The first is a challenge issued
by Shiekh and Spirek to think about how political community and democratic
group boundaries were reconstituted post-9/11—often in ways that do not produce
tolerance. Shiekh shows us this in the international context with the selective
racial and religious targeting of detainment and deportation policy. The
reevaluation of the United
States, its citizens, and its ideals by deportees, detainees,
and their friends and families illustrates this in the international context.
Spirek’s original research question regarding the media’s role in reconstituting
notions of solidarity similarly presses the issue of tolerance and community
post-9/11 in the American context. These findings further document bias directed
toward Muslims and Arab Americans (Schildkaut 2002).
In Walker’s and Shiekh’s work, a second theme emerges. Walker makes children both her unit of analysis
and observation. Shiekh makes deportees, detainees, and their friends and
family the central focus. These decisions place aggrieved groups (deportees
and detainees) and groups often ignored in politics and public opinion (children)
center stage. The opinions uncovered challenge existing notions of a singular
opinion response to 9/11. This pushes scholars to conceptualize public opinion
more broadly and look for subgroup differences beyond the important ones
defined by black and white.
The media’s capacity to cultivate one opinion image, as
well as frame public “facts” regarding September 11, are also illuminated
in these chapters. Spirek’s original research questions address media influence
in these areas as well as the tendency for individuals to believe themselves
immune—but others highly susceptible—to media effects. Walker’s analysis demonstrates how the frames that the media rely
on when explaining the motivations for September 11 can be internalized across
age groups. Regardless of whether there was an actual link between Saddam
Hussein and Osama bin Laden, she finds that children exposed to this media
frame were more likely to believe a connection existed. These chapters begin
to illuminate the media’s prominent role for opinion and September 11. Simultaneously,
they call for more research into potential connections between 9/11, public
opinion, and the media.
The next link across chapters concerns the ethnocentrism
that emerges when the empirical treatments of public opinion and 9/11 are
viewed as a whole. Shiekh’s chapter conceptualized 9/11 as a global event
with ramifications for public opinion outside of the United States. Spirek’s original research questions
similarly suggested ramifications for public opinion beyond American borders.
Globalized visions of public opinion thus characterize these chapters.
The final link across chapters adds further credence to
the nuance, ambivalence, and sometimes critical nature of public opinion
post-9/11 (Davis and Silver 2004; O’Brien and Rothstein 2004). Critical opinions
were voiced following September 11—if not necessarily given much attention
in most mainstream media sources. The vast majority that voiced these views
were horrified and saddened by the events of 9/11. However, these reactions
did not necessarily mean that individuals did not include U.S. actions among their explanations for what
motivated the attacks. A subset of children interviewed for Walker’s chapter
questioned the motives of the president and wondered how U.S. economic and foreign
policy might have provided motivation for the attacks. Shiekh’s respondents
certainly challenge the legitimacy of U.S. deportation policy immediately following
9/11—especially its selective enforcement. They highlight how some immediate
policy reactions did not conform to democratic principles and how this influenced
global opinion of the United States.
The three chapters that form this section thus refine mainstream
accounts of public opinion following 9/11. They build and expand on existing
empirical literature. Most importantly, they matter socially and politically,
and they illuminate the variety of ways in which 9/11 influenced national
and international public opinion.
Berke, Richard L., and Janet Elder. “Americans Favor Military
Response; Poll Says Nation Solidly Behind Bush.” New York Times (September
Davis, Darren W., and Brian D. Silver. “Civil Liberties
vs. Security: Public Opinion in the Context of the Terrorist Attacks on America.” American Journal
of Political Science 48, no. 1 (2004): 28–46.
Delli Carpini, Michael, and Scott Keeter. What Americans
Know About Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven,
Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996.
Duffy, Michael, and Nancy Gibbs. “Defender in Chief.” Time (November
5, 2001), 24.
El Sway, Nada. “Yes, I Follow Islam, but I’m Not a Terrorist.” Newsweek (December
15, 2001), 12.
Gaines, Brian. “Where’s the Rally? Approval and Trust of
the President, Cabinet, Congress, and Government Since September 11.” PS:
Political Science and Politics 35, no. 3 (September 2002): 531–36.
Gilmore, Brian. “Black America and the Dilemma of Patriotism.” In Voices
of Dissent: Critical Readings in American Politics, ed. William F.
Grover and Joseph G. Peschek, 308–12. New
York: Longman, 2002.
Glaberson, William. “Support for Bush’s Anti-Terror Plan.” New
York Times (December 5, 2001), sec. A.
Herel, Suzanne. “Truth, Justice, and the American Way: Since the Sept. 11 Attacks, a Resurgence in Patriotism
Has Been Displayed in Many Ways.” San Francisco Chronicle (October 19, 2001), sec.
Hetherington, Marc J., and Michael Nelson. “Anatomy of a
Rally Effect: George W. Bush and the War on Terrorism.” PS: Political
Science and Politics 36, no. 1 (January 2003): 37–42.
Hopkins, Brent. “Los Angeles-Area Retailers Report Rush
on Flag-Motif Items.” Los Angeles Daily News (September 19, 2001), sec. 0.
Huddy, Leonie, Nadia Khatib, and Theresa Capelos. “The Polls:
Trends; Reactions to the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.” Public Opinion Quarterly 66,
no. 3 (2002a): 418–51.
Huddy, Leonie, Stanley
Feldman, Theresa Capelos, and Colin Provost. “The Consequences of Terrorism:
Disentangling the Effects of Personal and National Threat.” Political
Psychology 23, no. 3 (2002b): 485–510.
Jones, Jeffery, 2002, “Nearly 9 in 10 Americans Believe
Bin Laden Associates in United
States.” Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing 88, September
17, 2002, http://poll.gallup.com/content/default.aspx?ci=6829&pg=1,
retrieved October 26,
Kaufmann, Jonathan. “Some Arab Americans Doubly Hurt by
Tragedy.” Wall Street Journal (September 17, 2001), sec. A.
Kull, Steven, Clay Ramsay, and Evan Lewis. “Misperceptions,
the Media, and the Iraq War.” Political Science
Quarterly 118, no. 4 (2003–04): 569–98.
Kull, Steven, Clay Ramsay, Stefan Subias, and Evan Lewis. “U.S. Public Beliefs on Iraq and
the Presidential Election,” A PIPA-Knowledge Networks Poll: The American
Public on International Issues. April 22, 2004.
Leonard, Mary. “Next Steps: Support for Retaliation Public
Sentiment; Poll Finds 90% Want U.S. to
Take Military Action.” Boston Globe (September
18, 2001), sec. A.
Moeller, Susan. Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction: March
5–26, 1998, October
11–31, 2002, May 1–21,
2003. College Park, Md.: Center for International
and Security Studies at Maryland, University of Maryland, March 9, 2004. http://www.cissm.umd.edu/documents/WMDstudy_short.pdf.
Moore, David. “Rally Effect of 9/11 Terrorist Attacks Virtually
Gone.” Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing 41, September 12, 2002, http://poll.gallup.com/content/default.aspx?ci=6793&pg=1,
retrieved October 26,
O’Brien, Erin, and David Rothstein. “United We Stand?
African American Patriotism and Responses to September
11, 2001.” Paper presented at the annual national conference of the Midwest
Political Science Association, Chicago,
Pignataro, T. J. “Patriots Find Flags Out of Stock.” Buffalo
News (September 20, 2001), sec. A.
Rodriguez, Gregory. “Aftermath: Melting pot; Identify Yourself.” New
York Times (September 23, 2001), sec. 4.
Schildkraut, Deborah. “The More Things Change . . . American
Identity and Mass and Elite Responses to 9/11.” Political Psychology 23,
no. 3 (2002): 511–36.
Schubert, James, Patrick Stewart, and Margaret Ann Curran. “A
Defining Presidential Moment: 9/11 and the Rally Effect.” Political Psychology 23,
no. 3 (2002): 559–84.
Skocpol, Theda. “Will 9/11 and the War on Terror Revitalize
American Civil Democracy?” PS: Political Science and Politics 35,
no. 3 (September 2002): 537–40.
Sperling, Godfrey. “Clear Public Support for Bush.” Christian
Science Monitor (November 12, 2002), 4.
Traugott, Michael, Ted Brader, Deborah Carol, Richard Curtin,
David Featherman, Robert Graves, Martha Hill et al. “How Americans Responded:
A Study of Public Reactions to 9/11/01.” PS:
Political Science and Politics 35, no. 3 (September 2002): 511–16.