Domestic terrorism is a real threat for most Americans

February 03, 2021, 6:00 PM UTC

The January 6 attack on the US Capitol has made Americans more conscious of safety for the building and for the legislators who work there. The Department of Homeland Security warned that the country faces new threats of domestic terrorism from those inspired by the Capitol attack, and Americans have taken notice. In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, three in five Americans (61%) see domestic terrorism as a serious threat to the country.

While many Americans have been more worried in recent years about the threat of international terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security’s new warning about the threat of domestic terrorism was noted: three in four Americans (74%) heard a lot or a little about it. Nearly three-quarters of those who had heard “a lot” about the warning describe domestic terrorism as a serious threat (72%), with more than half calling it an “immediate and serious” threat (53%).  

Hearing about the threat was more common among Democrats (81%) and Independents (78%) than among Republicans (71%); partisanship makes a difference in how people think of domestic terrorism. Republicans were about as likely to describe it as a minor threat to the country – or not a threat at all – as they were to call it a serious threat. 

About half the country (47%) would like the government to do more to fight domestic terrorism. Only one in five (21%) believes it is doing enough. 

Capitol Security

Is there an ongoing threat to Congress? 

Americans want to take care of the US Capitol. Half (51%) approve of the decision to fence off the Capitol Building, with Democrats (75%) being much more likely than Independents (49%) and Republicans (33%) to approve of the measure. A plurality of Americans (43%) agree that members of Congress are in danger of a domestic terrorism attack, though a third overall (32%) and a majority of Republicans (57%) doubt that Congress is threatened.

When it comes to the security measures put in place for the Inauguration of President Joe Biden, most say they were appropriate (57%), though a third (36%) – including two-thirds of Republicans (69%) –  see them as an overreaction (the fencing now around the Capitol Building and blocked-off Washington D.C. streets remain from the Inaugural preparations and had been augmented after the Capitol takeover). 

Half of Americans (50%) say Donald Trump bears at least some of the responsibility for that takeover, while 39% say he should take only a little responsibility for it – or none at all. His alleged role in the takeover is the basis for the single article of impeachment the House of Representatives passed last month.  

The ongoing impeachment trial divides the country, just as the first one did. Americans are split on whether the Senate should convict the former President (45%) or not (43%). But there is a sense among many that he should not be allowed to run for president again, something the former president has indicated he might do. Two in five (39%) would allow President Trump to run again; half (49%) would not.  

How Americans view specific members of Congress 

Several Members of Congress, including at least one freshman member, have achieved quick public recognition and perhaps even notoriety. Two years ago, the Democratic “Squad,” was extraordinarily visible, especially Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was both admired and disliked - and who still generates mixed reactions from the public.  

This year, perhaps the most visible freshman legislator is Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, vocal in her controversial opinions. In this poll, Taylor Greene receives clearly negative evaluations, though about half (46%) of Americans do not have an opinion of her. Among those who do have an opinion, they are twice as likely to be unfavorable (39%) as favorable (15%). Even fellow Republicans are divided about her (25% favorable, 21% unfavorable, with half (54%) not even venturing an opinion. 

President Trump continues to exert influence on those who identify with his party. One member of the House GOP leadership, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, made headlines by supporting the impeachment of President Trump. That vote has made her disliked by half of Republicans (49%) nationally.  

In a reversal of typical partisan opinions, Democrats give Cheney a favorable evaluation (44%), 16-points higher than her unfavorability rating (26%).  

Related: Republicans sour on Congress and doubt the Supreme Court, too 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll  

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between January 31 - February 2, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.9% for the overall sample.  

Image: Getty