Poll: Twenty years after 9/11, most see a country forever changed

▶ Watch Video: 60 Minutes 9/11 Archive: Under Ground Zero

Most Americans believe the country was forever changed on 9/11, and most say they still remember that day well. Many of them report being personally affected, too, including so many who still express sadness, and even disbelief about the events, 20 years on. 


Thinking about 9/11 continues to be emotional for most Americans. “Sad” describes the way they most often feel when they think or hear about that day. They also feel “angry,” and half say thinking of 9/11 still makes them feel “scared.” Many still express “disbelief,” which has echoes of the feeling of “shocked” that CBS News polling heard from Americans on the night of the attacks 20 years ago, when that was the top feeling expressed about what had just happened, along with feeling “bad” and “horrified.” 


Most of these emotions are especially felt among those who remember that day most. People who remember that day “very well” (six in 10 Americans) are the most likely to feel “sad” and “angry” when they think or hear about the events of September 11, 2001.

A quarter of Americans say they have visited a 9/11 memorial.

Many say their own life has changed in some way after the attacks with some changes remaining with them today; and those who remember the attacks well report feeling more affected. For those who do say there has been change, half report paying more attention to news events than they did before the attacks and report feeling some loss of privacy and personal freedoms afterward, as changes that remain in their lives today. 


Fewer, but still sizable numbers, say they are more nervous about flying than they were before 9/11, and that they are still more careful in public overall. 


Would the country come together today?

It has been said that America became more united after the 9/11 attacks. By one measure of something the nation agreed on at the time, the country did rally behind its president. Right after the attacks, President George W. Bush’s job approval rating skyrocketed, reaching 90% in early October 2001 amid the U.S.-led military attacks in Afghanistan — the highest approval rating for a sitting president to date. The Republican president’s approval was boosted by majority support from Democrats, as well as large majorities of Republicans and independents. 

Do Americans think they’d come together if a terror attack from overseas happened today? Views are mixed. Among those who remember it, more than half today speculate that Americans would be just as united as they were after 9/11, or more so. But 40% feel the nation would not be as united as it was after the attacks.   


How have things changed?

Americans see a mix of good and bad when looking at ways the country may have changed since 9/11.

Most see the enhanced airport security measures that were put in place as changes for the better. Stricter security measures may have come at a cost, however, as more feel personal privacy and freedoms have changed for the worse, rather than better, as result of the attacks.


Americans feel views of first responders have changed for the better and, on balance, more feel opinions of the U.S. military have changed for the better than for the worse.

But most think discrimination against some people and religions grew worse as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,011 U.S. adult residents interviewed between September 6-9, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey, and the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±2.5 points.


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