On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, a group of social scientists at the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan gathered to consider the appropriate academic response to that day’s crisis. The group, including economists, political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and survey methodologists, knew that media polls would provide quick snapshots of people’s reactions to the terrorist attacks, but that scientific monitoring of public opinion was necessary. They quickly decided to track the impact of the attacks on Americans’ psychological well-being, political beliefs, and financial behavior. By September 15, the team had designed a telephone survey containing questions previously used on national surveys so that comparisons could be made with pre-attack baselines. The survey, administered less than a month after the terrorist attacks, documented people’s feelings of fear, patriotism, optimism about the economy, and impressions about different racial groups.
The gravity of the September 11 attacks may have caused people’s attitudes to shift permanently. However, some reactions in the days following the attacks were emotionally driven and may have changed as respondents had time to consider the issues at question in the survey. To understand how attitudes evolved, longitudinal measurement is necessary. David Featherman and the researchers at the ISR propose to repeat their survey in four quarterly waves in 2003. While the initial survey was paid for by ISR’s Survey Research Center, Russell Sage was the first to join a consortium of funders assembled to underwrite the cost of the next wave of interviewing. These follow-up surveys will inform the media and the academic community about how attitudes and behaviors develop in the wake of a traumatic national crisis.