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Pollsters probe depths of American fear at Museum of Tolerance’s pre-9/11 event

by Jonah Lowenfeld

September 8, 2011 | 9:15 am

The flyer for the Sep. 7 event at the Museum of Tolerance.

A new national poll unveiled at the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) on Sep. 7 finds Americans are worried about a nuclear Iran, afraid that China presents a military threat to the United States and concerned about the possibility of Islamic terror attacks perpetrated by American-born Muslims.

The poll, conducted for Secure America Now by the political group’s co-founders, Pat Caddell and John McLaughlin, is based on interviews conducted with 1,000 likely voters from August 8-10, and was unveiled at the first of the MOT’s two 9/11-themed events.

Titled “9/11 + 10: Public Attitudes about Security Threats—Domestic and Global,” the program was promoted as “a provocative evening.”

But despite the presenters using words like “stunning” to describe some of the poll results, the audience of about 60 stayed mostly impassive while listening to Caddell and McLaughlin’s data.

This isn’t Caddell and McLaughlin’s first survey into security issues—the pair has presented earlier findings at Conservative political gatherings in the past—and they acknowledge that Americans are mostly concerned about the economy right now. But they said that national security issues could still end up influencing the results of the 2012 election.

“The economy is certainly the most important issue by far, but this issue could end up being the deciding issue,” Caddell said.

Caddell served as pollster to Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980 and today is a regular contributor to Fox News. McLaughlin is a Republican pollster who counts House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R - VA) and Rep. Peter King (R - NY) among his current clients. They co-founded Secure America Now in the summer of 2010, and said that their data in August was collected from a representative sample of the American population.

The pollsters encouraged their audience to pay closest attention to the biggest numbers which, they said, suggested unanimity.

In response to a question about “Islamic terrorism by American born Muslims,” for example, 86 percent of respondents said they were concerned, and more than half of those said they were “very concerned.”

The evening’s moderator, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, asked the panelists what they might say if approached by a group of Imams who had seen and were concerned by the poll’s results.

“What advice would you give them?” Cooper asked.

“That they need to speak out more,” Caddell said.

Caddell said that Muslim Americans also feel their leaders haven’t spoken out sufficiently, pointing to a poll by the Pew Research Center released on Aug. 30, that showed nearly half of Muslim Americans (48 percent) said Muslim leaders in the United States have not done enough to challenge extremists.

In his presentation, Caddell objected fiercely to the idea that the Secure America Now poll results might be due to anti-Muslim prejudice.

“You cannot have 86 percent of the American people believe something like this and tell me that this is the result of Americans being racist or Islamophobic,” Caddell said.

But other results from the Pew poll suggest that the American general public’s impressions of Muslim Americans differ significantly from Muslim Americans’ self-perceptions.

While 21 percent of Muslim Americans see support for extremism in their community, 40 percent of the general public believes such support exists. Just 4 percent of Muslim Americans believe that support for extremism is growing among Muslim Americans. Six times as many in the general public (24 percent) believe that such support is growing.

Of those in the audience at the MOT, not everyone was convinced.

“Is the polling organization itself starting off with a bias?” asked Saul Leonard, 77, a member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center who said he tends to vote Democratic. “I have a feeling they were, just by the name, Secure America Now.”

Many of the poll results did not augur well for President Obama’s reelection chances. Of those polled in August by Secure America Now, just 49 percent approved of the president’s performance on defense and security.

Alan Richards, 46, comes regularly to the MOT with the people he mentors at the Amity Foundation, a drug treatment center. Richards, who voted for Obama in 2008, said he was undecided as to whether he would vote for the president again in 2012, and said that the evening’s presentation gave him more to think about as he considers his options.

But—as McLaughlin and Caddell said—Richards’ main beef with Obama had to do with the level of unemployment.

“That’s one of the primary issues we deal with when it comes to reentry, is helping ex-offenders get positions and jobs, back in the corporate area,” he said.

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