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People In The US Are Pretty Sure Their Hometown Won't Be Attacked By Terrorists

A new survey from BuzzFeed News and polling firm Ipsos asked how people around the country actually feel about terrorism.

Posted on August 24, 2016, at 11:12 a.m. ET

As the US presidential race — finally — hits the home stretch, several polls show people saying that terrorism is the second-most pressing issue the country faces, right after jobs.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Rather than asking about which candidate people thought would be better at combatting terrorism, though, we decided to go a bit deeper into their views on terror and how it affects their daily lives.

BuzzFeed News worked with the polling firm Ipsos to survey 1,006 Americans from across the country online about their views on terror, covering a period from August 12–15. Here's what we found:

1. For starters, it seems like most people in the US don't believe that their homes face a high risk of coming under attack from terrorists.

BuzzFeed News/Ipsos

Pollsters with Ipsos presented a list of cities in the US and abroad and asked people to characterize them as being at high, medium, or low risk. Washington, DC, had the most people sure that the city was at high risk, followed by New York City.

Meanwhile, only 10% of those surveyed said "where you live" was at a high risk of terror, the same who said they didn't know if it was or not. That number seemed to fluctuate with age, though not in a way you'd think: People aged 18–34 were more likely to think that their locale was at high risk of a terror attack than people 55 and older — 15% to 6%. And older people were more likely to say their home was at low risk than younger respondents — 68% to 47%.

On the international side of things, more of those surveyed said that Paris is at high risk of a terror attack than said the same about Istanbul in Turkey — 53% to 48%. And few people, only 16%, believed that Tokyo is at high risk.

2. And despite their concerns, that fear isn't affecting people's travel plans.

BuzzFeed News/Ipsos

We asked the people polled whether they or anyone they know has changed their travel plans because of their fears of terrorism. Only 11% of respondents said that they themselves had — but that's still 1 in 10 people, which seems rather high when you look at it that way. (Another 5% of people said they weren't sure if they'd changed their travel plans due to worries about terrorism, which is odd because it seems rather binary.)

Slightly more respondents (17%) knew people whose travel had been changed or delayed thanks to terrorism fears, though nearly as many people didn't know. (The poll also didn't determine whether it was domestic or international travel that was interrupted.)

3. Most are also pretty sure that Europe and the US have less to worry about when it comes to terrorism than the Middle East does.

BuzzFeed News/Ipsos

More than half of people asked — 54% — said they disagreed with the idea that people in the US and Europe face a greater risk of terrorism than those in the Middle East. (Interestingly, 75% of those who said that the US and Europe are at a greater risk also said that they had changed their travel plans within the past six months due to terrorism concerns.)

4. But if you have a child in your household? Your worry about terrorism skyrockets.

BuzzFeed News/Ipsos

5. People at least say they're as emotionally torn up about the truck attack in Nice as they are a bombing in Baghdad.

Sabah Arar / AFP / Getty Images

We asked people if they agreed or disagreed with two statements: "Hearing about 90 people killed by a terrorist in a truck in France really impacts me emotionally" and the same about "250 people killed by terrorists at a soccer event in Baghdad."

Seventy-six percent of people agreed with the statement about Nice compared with 72% of people agreeing with the Baghdad statement. Women were more willing to say that they were emotionally impacted than men in both cases — 84% versus 67% and 80% to 63% respectively.

Two interesting points: People in the Midwest were the least likely to say they were impacted emotionally by the two terror attacks listed. Only 65% of those polled said they agreed about Baghdad — compared with 75% in the South — and 69% about Nice, compared with 80% in the Northwest. And on the whole, white Americans polled were less likely to say that they were impacted by the Baghdad attack than other races: 70% to 79%.

(And we know: People say a lot of things to avoid looking bad during surveys. But to try to avoid that, Ipsos randomized the questions, so half the people got asked their feelings about Baghdad first and half about Nice, so in theory it works out.)

6. As for what they want the government to actually do to prevent terrorism, it's a bit of a toss-up.

BuzzFeed News/Ipsos

BuzzFeed News and Ipsos asked respondents about three possible methods to prevent terrorism: utilizing military action, launching economic and cultural programs aimed at youth, and deploying law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

It turns out that it was extremely close to being a three-way tie: 29% said that law enforcement was the way to go, 28% were in favor of military action, and 24% thought teaching children and teens a better way was key. A solid fifth of people admit that they didn't know what was the most effective way to prevent terrorism.

People who are young themselves were the most in favor of programs aimed at young people: 31% of 18–34 year olds saw it as the best way to prevent terrorism. In contrast, the plurality of 35–54 year olds — 32% — saw military action as the best method.

7. The breakdown becomes a little more clear, though, when you ask along party lines. Republicans seem to favor military action by a strong plurality versus Democrats' faith in building up the youth.

BuzzFeed News/Ipsos

Military action remains the preferred policy choice for Republicans surveyed, of whom 45% said it is the most effective way to prevent terrorism. Only 9% thought that economic and cultural programs would produce results.

Comparatively, the Democrats are more ambivalent, with a near tie between law enforcement and programs aimed at youth — 31% and 34% respectively. But Democrats' views on military action, likely influenced by lingering opinions on the war in Iraq, showed that just 19% believe that it's the most effective way to prevent terrorism.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.