Part I of this article, We Are Changed Forevermore, examined the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the international outpouring of support, the sudden and powerful unity of purpose within America, and the upsurge in confidence in many of our institutions from government to religion.
There are people for whom 9/11 irrevocably changed their worlds; nothing will ever be the same. Most are relatives or friends of the thousands who died, but many are simply Americans for whom something was shattered or altered or simply changed ... for some there are positive aspects while for others there are only the negatives.
The New Normal
For America as a whole, it seemed in the immediate aftermath that the dramatic changes in attitudes might actually be signifying a new political paradigm. But what’s striking is how quickly we returned to normal, although not quite the normal of before. Bill McInturff, of Public Opinion strategies, calls it "the new normal."
McInturff said, "It didn't take America five years to recover. It was like a year."
Trust in government soared to 64% after the attack. By the summer of 2002, it had returned to it's traditional 30%. In December of 2001, Gallop found that 71% of Americans said religion was more important in American life. By March, according to a Pew Research poll, that number had dropped to 37%.
One key to why attitudes so quickly reverted is that, despite all the rhetoric, behavior had never shifted that dramatically. For all the calls to stockpile food and water, 30% told Harris Interactive pollsters that they considered it; the reality is that 9% did. By early March, 2002, Gallup found that number jumped to all of 13%--statistically almost meaningless.
What people reported is that they way they felt changed dramatically, not their day-to-day lives. Just over 50% told Fox News/Opinion Dynamics in late 2001 and early 2002 that their lives had changed in a lasting way, but 3/4 of those said it changed their feelings, not their behavior. When behavior fails to change, attitudes often regress to their former state.
Thus we find that the number who reported feeling depressed or had trouble sleeping declined fairly quickly. By March and September of 2002 Gallup found that smaller numbers had flown the flag, prayed more than usual, cried, or called loved ones “in the past two weeks” than had done so immediately after 9/11.
Karlyn Bowman, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said in a recent interview, "There was a temporary spike and people felt a little bit better about government after 9/11, but all those numbers have reverted to where they were before."
Bowman notes that people have accepted that terrorism is a real possibility in their lives, but they've incorporated that into their daily lives. The fear is worse in large cities, but, by and large, "they don't panic."