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Keywords:

  • Demographic variables;
  • psychometric variables;
  • risk perception;
  • terrorism

A 2009 national telephone survey of 924 U.S. adults assessed perceptions of terrorism and homeland security issues. Respondents rated severity of effects, level of understanding, number affected, and likelihood of four terrorist threats: poisoned water supply; explosion of a small nuclear device in a major U.S. city; an airplane attack similar to 9/11; and explosion of a bomb in a building, train, subway, or highway. Respondents rated perceived risk and willingness to pay (WTP) for dealing with each threat. Demographic, attitudinal, and party affiliation data were collected. Respondents rated bomb as highest in perceived risk but gave the highest WTP ratings to nuclear device. For both perceived risk and WTP, psychometric variables were far stronger predictors than were demographic ones. OLS regression analyses using both types of variables to predict perceived risk found only two significant demographic predictors for any threat—Democrat (a negative predictor for bomb) and white male (a significant positive predictor for airline attack). In contrast, among psychometric variables, severity, number affected, and likelihood were predictors of all four threats and level of understanding was a predictor for one. For WTP, education was a negative predictor for three threats; no other demographic variables were significant predictors for any threat. Among psychometric variables, perceived risk and number affected were positive predictors of WTP for all four threats; severity and likelihood were predictors for three; level of understanding was a significant predictor for two.