America’s Biggest Fears – and Mine

Every year since 2014, Chapman University has conducted a Survey of American Fears. The results provide an in-depth examination into the fears of average Americans. For the most recent survey (June, 2018), a random sample of 1,190 adults from across the United States was asked their level of fear about ninety-four different phenomena including crime, the government, the environment, disasters, personal anxieties, technology, and many others.

Here is a list of the 10 fears for which the highest percentage of Americans reported being “Afraid,” or “Very Afraid.”

Top Ten Fears of 2018
% Afraid or Very Afraid
1. Corrupt government officials 73.6
2. Pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes 61.6
3. Pollution of drinking water 60.7
4. Not having enough money for the future 57
5. People I love becoming seriously ill 56.5
6. People I love dying 56.4
7. Air pollution 55.1
8. Extinction of plant and animal species 54.1
9. Global warming and climate change 53.2
10. High medical bills 52.

 

The researchers also noted that the extent to which Americans are afraid, in general, also appears to be on the rise.

In 2016, the highest level of fear reported by our respondents was for corrupt government officials at 60.6%.   From there fear dropped precipitously, with #2 on the list in 2016 (terrorist attack) down to forty-one percent and the rest of the 2016 top ten list all under forty percent.

As seen in the table above, by 2018 all the top ten fears were held by more than half of Americans.

I’ve also included the full ranking of all 94 fears at the end of this post. If I had been asked to rank my top five fears from those 94 choices, it would look like this (the numbers in parentheses represent where that fear was ranked on the list followed by the percent of Americans who reported being afraid or very afraid of that fear):

  1. the U.S. will be involved in another world war (12/51.6)
  2. random mass shooting (28/41.5)
  3. walking alone at night (65/23.5)
  4. small enclosed spaces (72/19.8)
  5. reptiles (62/24.1)

As you can see, my fears seem to be out of touch with those of the average American. I do not share any of the top 10 fears, and three of my fears are in the bottom one-third of the rankings.

Some of the items on the list of 94 fears surprise me:

  • an oil spill
  • government restrictions on firearms and ammunition (seriously, people FEAR this??!!)
  • government use of drones in the U.S.
  • public speaking,
  • the devil (must have been a lot of Catholics in the survey)
  • demons
  • technology I don’t understand
  • being fooled by fake news
  • God
  • extreme animal rightists
  • sharing a restroom with a transgender person
  • zombies
  • ghosts
  • CLOWNS (WHAT??!!)
  • others talking about you behind your back

And while I may think some of those are odd things to be afraid of, I’m sure there are people who would scoff at my top five fears.

But really, would you want to be walking alone at night, fall into a small enclosed space, and then suddenly find yourself surrounded by alligators?

I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight with that image in my mind…

Here is the complete ranking of all 94 fears:

Complete List of Fears (2018)
% Afraid or Very Afraid
1. Corrupt government officials 73.6
2. Pollution of oceans, rivers and lakes 61.6
3. Pollution of drinking water 60.7
4. Not having enough money for the future 57
5. People I love becoming seriously ill 56.5
6. People I love dying 56.4
7. Air pollution 55.1
8. Extinction of plant and animal species 54.1
9. Global warming and climate change 53.2
10. High medical bills 52.9
11. Cyber-Terrorism 52.5
12. The U.S. will be involved in another world war 51.6
13. Islamic extremists 49.3
14.  White supremacists 49.3
15. Economic/financial collapse 49.2
16. Identity theft 46.6
17.  Corporate tracking of personal data 46.3
18. Government tracking of personal data 46
19. Being hit by a drunk driver 45.3
20. Biological warfare 44.7
21. Becoming seriously ill 44.1
22. Oil spills 44
23. Terrorist attack 43.8
24. Widespread civil unrest 43
25. Nuclear weapons attack 42.9
26. Credit card fraud 42.6
27. Extreme anti-immigration groups 41.6
28. Random mass shooting 41.5
29. Terrorism 39.8
30. North Korea using nuclear weapons 39.2
31. The collapse of the electrical grid 39
32. Pandemic or a major epidemic 38.6
33. Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition 37.8
34. Devastating drought 37.7
35. Iran using nuclear weapons 36.4
36. Losing my data, photos or other important documents in a disaster 36.3
37. Nuclear accident/meltdown 36
38. Break-ins 35.1
39. Devastating tornado 34.7
40. Being unemployed 34.4
41. Heights 33.6
42. Theft of property 33.3
43. Devastating hurricane 32.8
44. Government use of drones within the U.S. 32.3
45. Militia/patriot movement 31.3
46. Devastating flood 31.1
47. Devastating earthquake 30.9
48. Computers replacing people in the workforce 30.7
49. Devastating wildfire 30.7
50. Murder by a stranger 29.7
51. Sharks 29.2
52. Mugging 28.6
53. Racial/hate crime 28.6
54. Dying 27.9
55. Financial fraud (such as a Ponzi scheme, embezzlement, etc.) 27.2
56. Sexual assault by a stranger 27.1
57. Devastating blizzard/ winter storm 27
58. Police brutality 26.6
59. Public speaking 26.2
60. Deep lakes and oceans 25.7
61. Abduction/kidnapping 25.1
62. Reptiles (snakes, lizards, etc.) 24.1
63. Stalking 23.7
64. Hell 23.7
65. Walking alone at night 23.5
66. The Devil/Satan 23.1
67. Insects/arachnids (spiders, bees, etc.) 22.6
68. Illegal immigration 21.5
69. Murder by someone you know 21
70. Demons 20.8
71. Antifa 20.7
72. Small enclosed spaces 19.8
73. Sexual assault by someone you know 19.2
74. Large volcanic eruption 18.6
75. Technology I don’t understand 17.8
76. Being fooled by ‘fake’ news 17.5
77. Extreme environmentalists 16.4
78. Apocalypse/Armageddon 16.4
79. God 14.2
80. Germs 13.2
81. Needles 12.9
82. Flying 12.7
83. Significant other cheating on you 12.1
84. Extreme Animal Rightists 11.3
85. Sharing a restroom with a transgender person 9.5
86. Whites no longer being the majority in the U.S. 9.4
87. Zombies 8.4
88. Ghosts 8.3
89. Sexual harassment in the workplace 7.5
90. Clowns 7.1
91. Strangers 7
92. Others talking about you behind your back 6.7
93. Blood 6.3
94. Animals (dogs, rats, etc.) 3.7

2 thoughts on “America’s Biggest Fears – and Mine

  1. How to mislead with statistics
    Jim Borden: America’s Biggest Fears – and Mine —
    https://www.jborden.com/americas-biggest-fears-and-mine/

    Jensen Comment
    This type of survey is misleading because it depends crucially upon what questions are asked plus how all questions are worded.

    For example, there’s a huge difference between the wording of “illegal immigration” versus “Open borders to all seeking to enter.” The phrase “Illegal immigration” to most implies illegal immigration at rates experienced in the last decade or so. The phrase “Open borders to all seeking to enter” is an entirely different fear not mentioned in the survey, but it is a fear that Trump probably wins heaviest on these days. Trump is not building his political base on illegal immigration at present rates. He’s building his base on fears of open borders, and Democrats are not helping by avoiding mentioning limits to welcomed immigration hordes.

    There’s a huge difference between the phrase “High medical bills” versus “Spending $4+ trillion per year on Medicare-for-All.” For many spending $4+ trillion annually on most any single government program is the most scary thing they can imagine. Others cannot even comprehend the difference between $3 billion versus $3 trillion as long as fat cats pay the difference. At $4+ trillion per year all cats will starve.

    I also question how the sampling population “Americans” was sampled. It’s virtually impossible in research such as this to even reach tens of millions of Americans, and there are tens of millions more who will refuse to give out such information when contacted.

    In other words, I contend that this study is more misleading than helpful — mostly due to what questions are asked plus how all questions are worded.

    WaPost fact-checker gives Ocasio-Cortez four Pinocchios for Pentagon claim —
    https://thehill.com/homenews/media/419730-wapost-fact-checker-gives-ocasio-cortez-four-pinocchios-for-pentagon-claim

    Like

    1. Hi Bob, I agree that the set of questions asked, and how they are asked, has a big influence on how people respond and what the results of the survey turn out to be. I’m not sure if that would be considered “misleading with statistics”, but it certainly does create the potential for bias. I was quite surprised that corrupt government officials are the biggest fear. It certainly bothers me, but it is not something I would ever think to respond that I am very afraid of such a possibility.

      Like

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