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3 in 4 Americans think there will be a terrorist attack in the US in the next year

Belgium Mourns After Deadly Brussels Terror Attacks Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

If the goal of terrorism is to sow anxiety much more widely than the radius of even the most destructive bomb, a new poll suggests the attacks in Brussels were successful: Americans are really, really worried.

A slight majority of Americans say they're now less willing to travel to Belgium or France than they were before the attacks in those countries. Large majorities say the attacks have made them more concerned about similar threats to the US. And 74 percent said they think there will be a terrorist attack in the US within the next year.

The poll, from the nonpartisan technology and media company Morning Consult in partnership with Vox, asked how much respondents had heard about four recent deadly events linked to ISIS: the shootings in Paris in November 2015, the shooting in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, the suicide bombings in Ankara, Turkey, on March 13, and the explosions in Brussels on March 22.

Then they were asked how much those attacks made respondents worried about an attack in the US and if they were now less likely to travel to places where those attacks occurred.

About half of respondents said they'd be less likely to travel to Turkey, Belgium, and France. The attacks in Belgium and France in particular made people more concerned about the US. More than 75 percent said the attacks abroad had raised their concern about similar attacks at home.

The worry wasn't distributed evenly. (Here are the poll's crosstabs.) Older Americans were more concerned about terrorism at home than younger Americans. Women — particularly Republican women — were slightly more likely to say they were concerned than men. Those who disapproved of President Obama's job performance were also more likely to say they were worried by the attacks.

The attacks in Turkey raised slightly less concern. Americans were also overwhelmingly less likely to say they'd heard "a lot" about them: 9 percent, compared with 55 percent for the attacks in Brussels.

The attacks in France and Belgium don't necessarily mean Americans are more at risk

The poll didn't ask about relative risk — about whether Americans were more worried about terrorism or gun violence that isn't linked to ISIS. So it's possible that Americans are more concerned about terrorism than they were in the past, but still not particularly concerned. Only 24 percent in the Morning Consult poll said national security was the most important issue for them in the 2016 elections, compared with 33 percent who cited economic issues.

Still, other data suggests that fear of terrorism in the US really is climbing. Gallup periodically asks people if they fear that they or someone they know will be the victim of a terrorist attack. The researchers found that even before the attacks in Paris and Brussels, concern about terrorism in the US was growing. In December, it was higher than at any point since October 2001.

Attacks in Brussels and Paris, however close to home they might feel for Americans, don't necessarily predict attacks on US soil. The struggle with ISIS-linked terrorism in Europe is very different from the situation in the US.

The people who attacked the Bataclan concert hall and nearby cafes in Paris, as well as the Zaventem airport and subway in Brussels, were almost entirely citizens of Western Europe, many of them with links to ISIS. An estimated 5,000 foreign fighters for ISIS are from Western Europe; the strongest predictor that a foreign fighter will be radicalized, according to the Brookings Institution's William McCants and Christopher Meserole, is whether they live in a French-speaking country.

The number of Americans who have joined ISIS is much smaller — fewer than 300 people — and a report in December found that it was flat while other nations' recruitment was climbing.

That means Americans have less to worry about than Europeans. But that's a distinction that seems to be getting lost as people watch reports from Paris and Brussels about terror and tragedy there.