Post 9/11 Survey: Homeland Security Replaces Health Care as Top Public Priority

Researching public opinion on RWJF priorities

From 2001 to 2004, the Harvard Opinion Research Group at the Harvard University School of Public Health, under the direction of Robert J. Blendon, ScD, conducted a total of 16 public opinion surveys on topics related to the priorities of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The surveys examined Americans' attitudes about the following:

  • The uninsured.
  • Response to the anthrax attacks.
  • Attitudes about the threat of a bioterrorist attack involving smallpox.
  • Response to bioterrorism.
  • Health care quality.
  • Overweight in children.
  • Smoking and pregnancy.
  • Health priorities after September 11 and the impact of terrorism and the economic recession on these priorities.

Key Findings

  • Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, health care has moved down on the public's agenda.
  • By mid-October 2001, top priorities for government action were terrorism, war and defense, and the economy and jobs.
  • A month after the first anthrax attacks Americans viewed bioterrorism as the most important health issue facing the country.
  • Many Americans hold beliefs about smallpox that are scientifically incorrect.
  • Following the anthrax attacks, 43 percent of respondents chose "a senior scientist from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention" as the official they would most trust to provide correct information about protection from the disease.
  • Most Americans do not perceive the quality of health care to be a top national problem.
  • More than half of Americans (53%) report that overweight in children is a very serious problem.
  • About half (51%) of Americans favor raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

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