Contact information:

Christopher Wolfe, PhD, psychology,

Eloy Nuñez, PhD, homeland security,

The most recent survey results from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute results were so compelling on American fears resulting from the terror attacks in Paris that the subject warrants extended commentary from Saint Leo faculty experts. A few findings from the national results, collected from more than 1,000 adults:

  • Those who agree somewhat or strongly that they are “concerned about terrorism when attending large public events” were reported at 61.8 percent.
  • More than three-quarters, at 78.2 percent, strongly or somewhat agree that “It is likely ISIS terrorists are hiding among Syrian and other refugees in order to enter Europe and the United States.”
  • Two-thirds, at 66.9, percent agree strongly or somewhat with “a pause in accepting Syrian refugees into the United States until additional FBI background checks and approvals are added to the current screening process.”
  • Half, at 51.1 percent, disagree strongly or somewhat that “the U.S. and Americans have an obligation to accept Syrian refugees.” The cumulative percent of those who agree with the notion of an obligation was 39 percent.

Individual Worries About Homeland Targets

Dr. Eloy Nuñez, who teaches law enforcement and justice students about homeland security, noted the relatively high percent of people who feel uneasy about going to big events for fear of some kind of an attack.

There are no easy answers to that, apparently.

Dr. Nuñez noted that big events that attract lots of television coverage—say like a Super Bowl game—have been desirable targets for terrorists because they want broad spectrums of the public to become audiences to traumatizing events. On the other hand, Dr. Nuñez said, the security at such venues has become rigorous, and better able to repel threats. That can make terrorists decide to go after other targets that are easier to strike, even if the crowds are smaller, Nunez.

This dynamic leads more organizations and venues to review their security policies, he noted. People may live in sense of lingering unease, and in deciding whether to go to an event will include in their thinking the expected level of security, he said. They may rethink transportation choices, too, and drive more than fly.

On Psychology: Now “Terror Management Theory” Kicks In

Dr. Chris Wolfe said “terror management theory,” developed in the 1980s, can explain and somewhat predict the way Americans are feeling and acting, collectively, since the ISIS attacks in Paris. The theory draws on common sense observations. The random acts of violence perpetrated against civilians were sufficiently horrific to make us feel our normal societal safeguards——laws and practices to keep us safe—are simply inadequate and “we will both see evil all around while becoming more fixated on our own cultural viewpoint,” according to the theory.

“In this fear,” Dr. Wolfe continued, “we are driven to lash out at the sources or perceived sources of threat to our rules, and our culturally mediated beliefs of acceptable and moral behavior…We will be driven to vilify those who represent this threat to our values. In these results, we can see a large percentage of those polled fear immigration by anyone of the Muslim faith; individuals who hold perhaps only one thing in common with the perpetrators of violence but nonetheless differ enough in their world and cultural view from mainstream Americans that we are driven to reject and suspect all peoples within this one faith as potential threats…We seek to find comfort as we huddle in the fear of our own mortality by controlling and limiting who we are willing to huddle with,” he said.

“Terror management theory predicts that as our fear of the ‘other’ intensifies or as homeland acts of terror [as in San Bernardino, CA on December 2] become more common, our devotion to those promising a return of normalcy will grow, even if that promise is unattainable without violating the underlying ethos of individual liberty and freedom within our national system of rules and laws,” he explained.

This state of mind, Dr. Wolfe added, can linger for an extended period, even years in some places and circumstances.

Media contacts: To speak further to Saint Leo University faculty members, contact Jo-Ann Johnston at (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843 or or Kim Payne at at or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508.