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Most Minnesotans have faith in US to meet terrorist threat, poll finds

By Ricardo Lopez | Star Tribune, Minneapolis (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 28, 2016

A majority of Minnesotans say they are confident in the U.S. government's ability to destroy terrorist networks around the world and protect the nation from an attack at home.

A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll found that 60 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat confident in the government's ability to eradicate terrorist groups around the world. More than one-third, or 37 percent, of Minnesotans said they had no confidence, or had little confidence, in the U.S. government's ability to fight terrorism abroad.

The poll comes just months after a terrorist attack in Paris that killed at least 130 people and left more than 300 injured. Another attack in San Bernardino, Calif., by two radicalized suspects, a husband and wife, killed 14.

Minnesotans' confidence level was higher when assessing the ability of U.S. officials to prevent another terrorist attack in the country. Nearly 70 percent of Minnesotans said they were very or somewhat confident the government could prevent a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

"I'm putting my faith in them," retired high school teacher John Manthey said. "I hope my faith is not misplaced."

Manthey, a Maplewood resident, said it is possible another attack could happen, but he believes the country's terrorism prevention efforts have been sufficient.

The statewide poll of 800 Minnesotans mirrored national surveys and other research that show relatively subdued attitudes toward terrorism threats, said Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, a research group based at the University of Maryland.

"It is really quite a remarkable statistic when [a large majority] agrees on anything having to do with the federal government," LaFree said. "I can't think of another issue where you get that much support. At the same time, [poll respondents are] saying we probably won't prevent everything."

Despite an uptick in anxiety among Americans after terrorist attacks in the U.S., attitudes shift over time, LaFree said. He found that about a year and half after the Boston Marathon bombing, for instance, people's unease had faded to what it was before the attack.

A similar Star Tribune poll conducted about a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks found that only 2 percent of respondents were "very" fearful of another attack on U.S. soil. A majority said at the time they were willing to support extraordinary measures to keep the nation safe.

Dorothy Olson, 84, a retired secretary, said she has strong faith in the country's efforts to battle terrorism, despite recent attacks abroad.

"I do think [President Barack] Obama has done his best, and I think our military leaders have done a good job," said Olson, of Richfield. "Our military is one of the best."

LaFree said surveys show that Republicans and religious conservatives were more likely to be fearful of terrorism threats.

In Minnesota, the poll found that 16 percent of Republicans said they were not confident in the country's ability to fight terrorism overseas. That's compared with 9 percent of Democrats who reported the same.

Tom Carlson, 61, a health care professional from Hancock, expressed little-to-no confidence in the U.S. government's ability to deter terrorists.

Carlson described himself as a conservative and said U.S. borders are too wide open, leaving the country vulnerable to those who wish to cause harm and mayhem.

"You have to have a secure border and our border is about like a stream," he said. "The only people who get caught are clumsy or have bad luck."

The Star Tribune Minnesota Poll interviewed registered voters around the state from Jan. 18-20. It has a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, plus or minus, and included interviews on both land lines and cellphones.

The poll found that a majority of Minnesotans, 54 percent, do not believe government should temporarily ban Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made that proposal in December, sparking heated debate in the presidential race.

Minnesotans were split along party lines over their views of a temporary ban. Seven in 10 who identified as Democrats said Muslims from other countries should not be barred from entering the country. That's compared with 38 percent of Republicans who answered the same.

"I'm for banning everybody from entering the country until [federal authorities] get a handle on the system," Carlson said. "Right now they don't have a handle on our immigration system. Until they can do that, we can't allow anybody realistically in the country."

Gordy Gustafson, 36, an attorney from St. Paul, said the proposed ban doesn't get to the core of the deeper problem.

"I believe it's basically desperate people trying to commit acts of violence, and that can happen regardless of which religion," Gustafson said. "We've also seen in this country that people who purport to be Christian terrorize people, whether they were the Ku Klux Klan or members of racist groups today that claim to be Christian."

Darrell Amacker, a 59-year-old South St. Paul resident who works in sales, said a ban is likely to incite other Muslims or lead to a backlash against Muslims already living in the U.S.

Amacker said he is realistic about the threat of terrorism and the complexity globally.

"We could go in and take care of ISIS," he said of the terrorist organization. "We have the firepower to do that, but what's going to happen as a result of that? ... The problem is new [terrorism networks] are going to pop up."
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