Public Response to a National Tragedy

Other External Scholars:
Kenneth Rasinski, University of Chicago
Thomas Smith, National Opinion Research Center
Project Date:
Oct 2001
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
September 11 Initiative

The terrorist attacks on September 11th provoked a spectrum of powerful reactions that occur only in rare moments of national crisis. The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago attempted to track the evolving public reaction to the terrorist events by fielding a national telephone survey in the two weeks following the disaster. The 20-minute survey asked how people learned about the events, how they communicated with friends and family that day; what specific reactions they had; what behaviors they changed (i.e., blood donation, religious services); how their basic beliefs and values were affected with regard to patriotism, civil liberties, government, religion, and tolerance; and upon what coping mechanisms they relied. In addition, the survey included basic demographic information, a scale measuring general emotional balance, information about whether the respondent knew someone killed or injured on September 11, and whether the respondent witnessed the event directly.


The Russell Sage Foundation joins the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Chicago Tribune in supporting the analysis of the data from the NORC survey. Tom Smith and Kenneth Rasinsky will produce subsequent analyses comparing the public response to the terrorist attacks to response to another American tragedy – the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 – looking specifically at how each event influenced public feelings about the trustworthiness of others, and confidence in American institutions.



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