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Analysts Try to Determine Effects of 9-11 on US Politics - 2002-03-28

It will ultimately be up to historians to gauge how much the United States has changed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But public opinion pollsters and political analysts are already hard at work trying to determine the lasting effects of "9-11" on U.S. politics.

Pollster Andrew Kohut says President Bush and the Republicans are reaping short term gains for the president's handling of the war on terrorism. But he says Democrats could regain some ground if the political agenda gradually shifts back to domestic issues like the economy and health care.

Mr. Kohut predicts that one of the long term effects of September 11 will be a restoration of public confidence in the federal government. "I think national unity and patriotism may fade, but I think the new relevance of Washington will not," he said. "Americans need national government in a way they have not for some time and I think that matters to public opinion very much."

But Andrew Kohut is quick to add that support for the federal government's response to the September terrorist attacks will not sweep away criticisms of government that have intensified in recent years. "I should say, however, that the post 9-11 polls have not found longstanding criticisms of government fading," he said. "Our surveys in September found people continuing to feel that the government was too wasteful, had too much control over people's lives and nearly half of the public expressed doubts about the trustworthiness of government officials. Yet, that poll and every other one has shown an increase in trust in government."

Mr. Kohut says he has also noticed another trend in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy. A growing willingness of women to support more money for homeland security and the armed forces. "I think the biggest change in attitude has occurred among women," said Andrew Kohut. "My favorite headline from one of our polls [was] 'Mothers for missile defense,' showing a 30 percent increase in the number of mothers who felt that missile defense was a good idea post 9-11."

Mr. Kohut was one of several analysts who recently discussed the impact of September 11 at the Brookings Institution, a public policy research organization here in Washington.

Among the others who took part was longtime Washington Post political correspondent David Broder, who believes many Americans are trying to return to normal six months after the terrorist attacks. "I think the operative part of his survey is the part that says we are moving back fairly rapidly toward a normal political environment where domestic concerns, parochial concerns are uppermost in people's minds," he said.

Other analysts, though, predict the after-effects of September 11 and the war on terrorism will remain a top priority for the American public.

William Kristol is editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard magazine and a leading advocate of expanding the war on terrorism to include Iraq. "I think the war remains the dominant issue," he said. "This is anecdotal, but I think people are very interested in the war. They sense that 9-11 was the beginning of a new moment for America and the world. Maybe a new moment at home, I think that is harder to say. But certainly a new moment in the world, that it is not going away and they are very curious what is going to happen, what should happen, what are the implications of what has happened so far."

Pollster Andrew Kohut says his surveys since September 11 have found Americans are more committed to U.S. involvement in the world and attach a lot more significance to the views of allies around the world, especially as they relate to the war on terrorism.