Americans' Biggest Fears Aren't About Gun Violence Or Terrorism

Unlike most presidential candidates, Americans are more concerned about getting sick or losing a job.
An American flag flies at half mast. A HuffPost/YouGov poll shows Americans concerned about terrorism and gun violence, but more personally worried about job loss and illness.
An American flag flies at half mast. A HuffPost/YouGov poll shows Americans concerned about terrorism and gun violence, but more personally worried about job loss and illness.
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Pervasive fear was practically the 10th candidate onstage at Tuesday's foreign policy-focused GOP debate. The event opened with moderator Wolf Blitzer declaring a focus on "keeping the country safe" -- a topic that came up more than 50 times throughout the night.

In the weeks since the attack in San Bernardino, California, presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle have been addressing a presumably terrified nation, from Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) describing the national mood as "really scared and worried, to Hillary Clinton telling Iowans that "it's O.K. to be afraid." Donald Trump, perhaps more than any other candidate, has based his campaign on an appeal to xenophobia.

It's not clear, however, that the public is all that acutely afraid.

There's no question that the most recent shooting, falling against a grim backdrop of frequent gun violence at home and terrorism overseas, has left the public shaken. The share of Americans naming terrorism as the country's most important problem is higher than it's been in a decade, according to Gallup, with concerns about guns and gun control also on the rise.

"I am very careful taking my small children into large crowds or celebrations - particularly those celebrations of our faith," said one mother surveyed in a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, which finds that a fifth of Americans have changed their lives in the last year because of concerns about gun violence or terrorism.

Another respondent said she'd stopped going to shopping malls, movie theaters or "anywhere there are big crowds," while others ticked off lists of self-imposed restrictions ranging from the all-encompassing to the acutely specific. "I don't go out alone and I don't go out at night," one said. Another wrote: "I won't go to a mall. Will not fly in a plane. Will not visit Europe."

A few share the attitudes that led to gun sales spiking in the wake of many high-profile shootings. "[I] purchased handguns and a shotgun and learned how to use them defensively," wrote one 58-year-old man, who said he was very scared about the way things are going in the world today, including the possibility that his family would be affected either by gun violence or by terrorism.

But his level of anxiety, the HuffPost/YouGov survey suggests, is distinctly in the minority.

Most Americans describe themselves as, at most, "somewhat" scared by the way things are going in the world. Just 13 percent say they worry a great deal that they or someone in their family will be a victim of gun violence; an equal percentage are equally concerned that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism.

Huffington Post

Asked to pick their two biggest worries for themselves and their families, 42 percent of Americans said they most fear someone will suffer a serious illness or injury. Forty-one percent feared that they or a loved one would lose a job or have financial problems.

In comparison, just over a quarter are most worried that they or a family member would be victimized by gun violence or a terror attack.

Huffington Post

Those fears aren't all equally distributed.

Republicans find terrorism more alarming than gun violence, while Democrats believe the opposite. Women worry more than men about violence, and illness concerns older Americans far more than the young. Twenty percent of black Americans, compared to just 2 percent of whites, name police brutality as among their biggest fears.

Across party lines, though, Americans' most pressing personal worries aren't the jolting events that have dominated recent headlines, but the more everyday struggles for economic and physical health. And whatever current events intervene in the time before next year's election, those concerns are likely to stick around.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Dec. 7-10 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls' methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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