Americans still see 9/11 as one of the most impactful events in recent history

The events of September 11th, 2001 have implications for daily life, 20 years on.

The author(s)

  • Christopher Moessner Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Ryan Tully Director
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Washington, DC, September 8, 2021– On the eve of the 20th anniversary of September 11th, Americans still perceive it as one of the most impactful events of the 21st century, on par with more recent events like the coronavirus pandemic.

Furthermore, a supermajority (85%) believe that the policies put into place because of the September 11th attacks still have implications for daily life. Yet views are mixed on how much has changed in terms of overall security since then, with a plurality (46%) agreeing that the country is now “about as safe” as it was before September 11th.

Moreover, 95% still believe that international terrorism will remain a critical or important threat to the United States in the next 10 years, on par with similar views about the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic, political polarization, and domestic violent extremism represent.

Detailed findings

The events of September 11th remain firmly etched in the minds of those who were alive to witness them. Ninety-two percent say they remember exactly where they were or what they were doing the moment they heard about the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and the hijacking of United flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, PA.

  • Younger Americans (those age 24 to 29) are the least likely to remember these events, at 65%. 

Eighty-five percent of Americans say that September 11th changed American society in a “major way.” Similar numbers say that the pandemic also had a major impact on American society, at 88%.

  • Among those who say that 9/11 had both a major and minor impact on society, 55% say that the it brought about negative change, while 31% believe the changes were both positive and negative.
  • A majority support continuing the airport security screening procedures that were put in place following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, with the greatest support for requiring personal identification for all passengers (97% support) and scanning luggage and personal items (95%).

In terms of the personal impact that the major events of the 21st century had on individuals, opinion shifts slightly among older and younger Americans. For all age cohorts, the COVID-19 pandemic is seen as the most impactful event, but most strongly among Americans age 18-29 (66% of whom agree).

  • For Americans age 18-29, the election of Donald Trump is the second most influential event (14%) agree. For all other age groups, September 11th is the second most personally impactful event behind COVID.

For full results, please see the attached annotated questionnaire

About the Study

This Chicago Council on Global Affairs/Ipsos poll was conducted August 23 to August 26, 2021 by Ipsos using the probability-based KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,924 general population adults age 18 or older with oversamples of Vetererans, active duty military, and young adults age 18 to 24.

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, the largest and most well-established online probability-based panel that is representative of the adult US population. Our recruitment process employs a scientifically developed addressed-based sampling methodology using the latest Delivery Sequence File of the USPS – a database with full coverage of all delivery points in the US. Households invited to join the panel are randomly selected from all available households in the U.S. Persons in the sampled households are invited to join and participate in the panel. Those selected who do not already have internet access are provided a tablet and internet connection at no cost to the panel member. Those who join the panel and who are selected to participate in a survey are sent a unique password-protected log-in used to complete surveys online. As a result of our recruitment and sampling methodologies, samples from KnowledgePanel cover all households regardless of their phone or internet status and findings can be reported with a margin of sampling error and projected to the general population.

The study was conducted in both English and Spanish. The data were weighted to adjust for gender by age, race/ethnicity, education, Census region, metropolitan status, household income, and party identification. The demographic benchmarks came from the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) from the US Census Bureau, except for metropolitan status which came from the 2020 Current Population Survey (CPS). The weighting variables and categories were as follows:

  • Gender (Male, Female) by Age (18–24, 25-29, 30–44, 45–59, and 60+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White Non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Other or 2+ Races Non-Hispanic, Hispanic)
  • Education (Less than High School grad, High School grad, Some College, Bachelor and beyond)
  • Census Region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West)
  • Metropolitan status (Metro, non-Metro)
  • Household Income (Under $25,000, $25,000-$49,999, $50,000-$74,999, $75,000-$99,999, $100,000-$149,999, $150,000+)
  • Language proficiency (English proficient, Bilingual, Spanish proficient, Non-Hispanic, not asked)
  • Veteran/Active duty military status (Yes, No)

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults. The margin of sampling error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.29. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples. In our reporting of the findings, percentage points are rounded off to the nearest whole number. As a result, percentages in a given table column may total slightly higher or lower than 100%. In questions that permit multiple responses, columns may total substantially more than 100%, depending on the number of different responses offered by each respondent.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest Insights and Analytics company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

ISIN code FR0000073298, Reuters ISOS.PA, Bloomberg IPS:FP


The author(s)

  • Christopher Moessner Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Ryan Tully Director