The Trump Administration is having a profound effect on what Americans are afraid of, according to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Fear of corrupt government officials is up 13.9 percent from last year, and many new fears—like North Korea’s nuclear program and Trump Care—that made the top ten weren’t on the list at all in years past.
This is the fourth year that Chapman University has conducted the survey. The new findings come from a poll of 1,207 U.S. adults done in May 2017. Participants reported their level of fear by answering if they were afraid or very afraid of a variety of topics such as the government, technology, disasters and personal anxieties, according to the University’s blog post on the findings. It’s important to note that respondents were asked about the topics individually so the results are not comparative. (That means the findings don’t reveal whether Americans are more afraid of North Korean nuclear weapons than healthcare costs.)
While usual suspects like not having enough money for the future (50.2 percent) and high medical bills (48.4 percent) made the top ten, the rest of the list indicates how the precarious and unpredictable times we’re living in are impacting people’s outlook.
For instance, the percentage of people who reported being afraid or very afraid of corrupt government officials rose from 60.6 percent in 2016 to 74.5 percent in 2017, and 55.3 percent of Americans reported being afraid or very afraid of the American Health Care Act and Trump Care. “The 2017 list of fears clearly reflects political unrest and uncertainty in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president,” the blog post says. That’s also evidenced by the new topics that made the list this year: 48.4 percent of Americans are afraid of the U.S. being involved in another World War, and 47.5 percent are afraid of North Korea using weapons.
But Americans are concerned about an unstable climate in more ways than one. While this poll was conducted prior to the slew of devastating natural disasters we’ve seen wreak havoc in the past few months, people are more scared of our changing physical world than ever before. “Environmental issues never cracked the top ten fears in our previous surveys,” the blog post says. Around 53 percent of Americans are afraid of polluted oceans, rivers and lakes, 50.4 percent are afraid of polluted drinking water, 48 percent are afraid of climate change, and 44.9 percent are afraid of air pollution.
The blog post helps put this into context: the poll was conducted during discussions of the U.S. leaving the Paris Climate Accords, and amid drastic changes in environmental policy that still leave the U.S.’s role in mitigating pollution unclear. “One of Donald Trump’s first actions as president was to withdraw the EPA’s ‘Waters of the United States rule,” the blog post says, which “drastically reduced the number of rivers and streams that could be protected from agricultural runoff under the Clean Water Act.” Adding to fears about water and air pollution was the coverage of the lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan’s water supply and mounting data on the impact of air pollution on human health. (The Lancet recently released data showing that 9 million global deaths in 2015 were linked to air pollution.)
But of course, people are still scared of more traditionally scary things like sharks (25.4 percent), clowns (6.7 percent) and zombies (5.3 percent). Interestingly, people reported being slightly more scared of sharks than they are of computers replacing people in the workplace (25.3 percent) and a tad bit more scared of reptiles like snakes and lizards (23.6 percent) than of dying (20.3 percent).
The survey findings reflect how our fears are changing in response to the world around us. And, unsurprisingly, in a time teeming with uncertainty and looming existential questions, it’s clear that those doubts manifest in our fears.