Americans feel less safe now than any time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because of the rise of the Islamic State and its on-camera beheadings of journalists, revealed a new poll released Wednesday.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 47 percent of Americans say the country is less safe now than before the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
That’s more people feeling unsafe than even a year after al Qaeda crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, when just 20 percent felt that way. The fear level has spiked dramatically since just last year, when 28 percent of Americans said they didn’t feel safe.
The numbers underscore the challenges President Obama faced in his address to the nation Wednesday night about his strategy for confronting the terrorists.
What’s more, Americans have little confidence in Mr. Obama. The poll found that only 32 percent of voters approve of his handling of foreign affairs, which is a new low for the president.
The heightened fear has prompted more than six in 10 Americans to back military action against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, which has overrun large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared itself an Islamic caliphate.
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With 61 percent supporting military action, just 13 percent said they didn’t think military strikes against the Islamic militants were in the United State’s interest.
Still, Americans held divergent views about what type of military action was best.
About 40 percent said the U.S. should only launch airstrikes, while 34 percent supported the use of airstrikes and combat troops. Another 15 percent said military action shouldn’t be taken.
The pollsters credited the video of the terrorists beheading two journalists kidnapped in Syria with shaking up the American public.
“A very war-weary country … seems to have woken up to the real threat that ISIS may present,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.
“The beheadings are so chilling to the American public,” added Mr. Hart. “The only things I think of equal impact are the self-immolations back in Vietnam.”
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About 94 percent of Americans said they heard news of the beheaded journalists, which is higher than any other news event the poll measured over the past five years.
The Islamic State group released video in August of the execution of James Foley and then another video last week showing the killing of Steven Sotloff. The British-accented terrorist on the tape said the beheadings were a warning to Mr. Obama that he should end U.S. airstrikes against its caliphate.