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Keywords:

  • threat;
  • national threat;
  • personal threat;
  • terrorism;
  • self–interest

The events of 11 September 2001 have led to a higher perceived risk of terrorism in the United States. A better understanding of the political consequences of 9/11 requires a more complete accounting of the nature and consequences of perceived threat. Here, the distinction between perceived personal and national risks is examined in terms of two competing hypotheses: (1) The personal threat of terrorism has a pervasive influence even on national decisions and perceptions, in line with its highly arousing nature. (2) The effects of personal threat are highly circumscribed and overshadowed by the impact of perceived national threat, consistent with findings on the meager impact of self–interest and other personal concerns on public opinion. A survey of 1,221 residents of Long Island and Queens, New York, explored the degree to which personal and national threat affect perceptions of the consequences of, and possible solutions to, terrorism. As expected, there was a clear distinction between perceived personal and national threat, although the two are related. Perceived personal threat did not influence the perceived economic consequences of terrorism, although it had a narrow effect on personal behaviors designed to minimize risk. Overall, the findings imply that the effects of personal threat are circumscribed, consistent with past research on the limited personal basis of political judgments. However, the tests of these hypotheses were constrained by a limited set of dependent variables that included national consequences but not policy solutions designed to limit terrorism.