The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 4 (2017) provides an in-depth examination into the fears of average Americans. In May of 2017, a random sample of 1,207 adults from across the United States were asked their level of fear about eighty different fears across a huge variety of topics ranging from crime, the government, the environment, disasters, personal anxieties, technology and many others.

Top 10 Fears of 2017

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

Top Ten Fears of 2017 % Afraid or Very Afraid
Corrupt Government Officials 74.5
American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare 55.3
Pollution of Oceans, Rivers and Lakes 53.1
Pollution of Drinking Water 50.4
Not having enough money for the future 50.2
High Medical Bills 48.4
The US will be involved in another World War 48.4
Global Warming & Climate Change 48
North Korea using weapons 47.5
Air Pollution 44.9

The 2017 list of fears clearly reflects political unrest and uncertainty in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president. Increased tensions with North Korea, concerns about sweeping changes proposed to health care and discussion (at the time the survey was administered) of the United States leaving the Paris Climate Accords produced a much different list from 2016:

Top Ten Fears of 2016 % Afraid or Very Afraid
Corrupt government officials 60.6
Terrorist Attack 41
Not having enough money for the future 39.9
Terrorism 38.5
Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition 38.5
People I love dying 38.1
Economic/financial collapse 37.5
Identity theft 37.1
People I love becoming seriously ill 35.9
The Affordable Health Care Act/Obamacare 35.5

Environmental Quality Ranks among Americans’ Top Fears

What is, perhaps, most striking about American fear in 2017 is that environmental fears, including water pollution and drinking water quality, figure more prominently than ever before. Environmental issues never cracked the top ten fears in our previous surveys.

In 2017, there was a sharp increase in environmental fears, likely due to fears about policy changes in Washington. The Trump Administration has charted a drastically different path; ordering the US Environmental Protection Agency not to enforce major pollution laws, and firing the EPA’s entire Science Advisory Board. 

Water Pollution 

  • A majority of Americans [53.1%] fear pollution of “oceans, rivers and streams.” This is the first time our survey found an environmental issue appeared in the top ten fears. The fact that water pollution has become such a prominent fear in 2017 may be traced to the reversal of environmental policies of the Obama Administration.

One of Donald Trump’s first actions as president was to withdraw the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule. This action drastically reduced the number of rivers and streams that could be protected from agricultural runoff under the Clean Water Act. Another of the administration’s first actions was to withdraw the “Stream Buffer” rule, which had been enacted to protect Appalachian rivers and streams from strip mining.

Drinking Water Quality

  • 4% fear for the quality of their drinking water. This should not be a surprise, considering the prominent news coverage of lead poisoning in the drinking water of Flint, Michigan, during the past year, as well as the subsequent discovery of contaminated drinking water in other communities around the country.

The prominence of these fears is consistent with years of public opinion polling which shows that water pollution typically outranks other environmental problems in the mind of the public. Water pollution ranks third overall, followed closely by Drinking Water Quality.

Climate Change and Air Pollution

  • Americans fear climate change [48%] and air pollution [44.9%]. These are the eighth and tenth greatest fears, respectively. The sharp rise in the number of Americans who now say they fear climate change (and air pollution, which contributes to climate change) may be linked to Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

Public opinion polls show that climate change ranks lower than most other environmental issues as a source of public concern. This is likely due to the perception that the effects of the warming oceans and atmosphere are remote, far in the future, and more likely to affect “other people.”

The Complete List of Fears, 2017

The following is a complete, list of all eighty of the fears addressed by the Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 4 (2017), including the percent of Americans who reported being afraid or very afraid.

 Sorted by Percent Afraid/Very Afraid 

Complete List of Fears (2017) % Afraid or Very Afraid
1.     Corrupt Government Officials 74.5
2.     American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare 55.3
3.     Pollution of Oceans, Rivers and Lakes 53.1
4.     Pollution of Drinking Water
5.     Not having enough money for the future 50.2
6.     High Medical Bills 48.4
7.     The US will be involved in another World War 48.4
8.     Global Warming & Climate Change 48
9.     North Korea using weapons 47.5
10.  Air Pollution 44.9
11.  Economic/Financial collapse 44.4
12.  Extinction of plant and animal species 43.5
13.  Terrorist Attack 43.3
14.  Identity Theft 41.9
15.  Biological Warfare 41.8
16.  Credit Card Fraud 40.3
17.  People I love dying 39.7
18.  People I love becoming seriously ill 39.1
19.  Cyber-Terrorism 39.1
20.  Widespread civil unrest 39.1
21.  Nuclear Weapons attack 39
22.  Terrorism 38.8
23.  Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition 38.6
24.  Government Tracking of personal data 37.4
25.  Corporate Tracking of personal data 36.7
26.  Oil Spills 36.2
27.  The collapse of the electrical grid 35.7
28.  Being hit by a drunk driver 35.5
29.  The Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare 33.9
30.  Pandemic or a major epidemic 32.8
31.  Being unemployed 30.7
32.  Nuclear accident/meltdown 30.3
33.  Losing my data, photos or other important documents in a disaster 29.0
34.  Heights 28.2
35.  Random Mass shooting 28.1
36.  Government use of drones within the US 27.2
37.  Devastating drought 26.6
38.  Break-ins 26.2
39.  Becoming Seriously ill 25.7
40.  Theft of property 25.4
41.  Sharks 25.4
42.  Computers replacing people in the workforce 25.3
43.  Devastating tornado 24.3
44.  Reptiles (snakes, lizards, etc.) 23.6
45.  Devastating earthquake 22.6
46.  Devastating Hurricane 21.4
47.  Racial/Hate Crime 20.9
48.  Dying 20.3
49.  Illegal immigration 20.3
50.  Insects/Arachnids 20.3
51.  Financial Fraud 20.0
52.  Public Speaking 20.0
53.  Devastating Flood 19.8
54.  Mugging 19.5
55.  Small enclosed spaces 19.8
56.  Walking alone at night 19.8
57.  Gang Violence 19.4
58.  Sexual Assault by a stranger 19.0
59.  Police Brutality 18.4
60.  Murder by a stranger 18.3
61.  Deep lakes and oceans 18.2
62.  Abduction/kidnapping 15.5
63.  Devastating blizzard/ winter storm 15.2
64.  Technology I don’t understand 14.9
65.  Stalking 14.1
66.  Sexual assault by someone you know 12.4
67.  Murder by someone you know 11.6
68.  Germs 11.5
69.  Whites no longer being the majority in the US 10.7
70.  Large volcanic eruption 10.6
71.  Needles 10.4
72.  Flying 9.5
73.  Strangers 8.4
74.  Others talking about you behind your back 7.5
75.  Significant other cheating on you 7.5
76.  Clowns 6.7
77.  Blood 5.5
78.  Zombies 5.3
79.  Ghosts 4.3
80.  Animals (dogs, rats, etc.) 3.7

 

Sorted Alphabetically

Complete List of Fears (2017) % Afraid or Very Afraid
Abduction/kidnapping 15.5
Air Pollution 44.9
American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare 55.3
Animals (dogs, rats, etc.) 3.7
Becoming Seriously ill 25.7
Being hit by a drunk driver 35.5
Being unemployed 30.7
Biological Warfare 41.8
Blood 5.5
Break-ins 26.2
Clowns 6.7
Computers replacing people in the workforce 25.3
Corporate Tracking of personal data 36.7
Corrupt Government Officials 74.5
Credit Card Fraud 40.3
Cyber-Terrorism 39.1
Deep lakes and oceans 18.2
Devastating blizzard/ winter storm 15.2
Devastating drought 26.6
Devastating earthquake 22.6
>Devastating Flood 19.8
Devastating Hurricane 21.4
Devastating tornado 24.3
Dying 20.3
Economic/Financial collapse 44.4
Extinction of plant and animal species 43.5
Financial Fraud 20.0
Flying 9.5
Gang Violence 19.4
Germs 11.5
Ghosts 4.3
Global Warming & Climate Change 48
Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition 38.6
Government Tracking of personal data 37.4
Government use of drones within the US 27.2
Heights 28.2
High Medical Bills 48.4
Identity Theft 41.9
Illegal immigration 20.3
Insects/Arachnids 20.3
Large volcanic eruption 10.6
Losing my data, photos or other important documents in a disaster 29.0
Mugging 19.5
Murder by a stranger 18.3
Murder by someone you know 11.6
Needles 10.4
North Korea using weapons 47.5
Not having enough money for the future 50.2
Nuclear accident/meltdown 30.3
Nuclear Weapons attack 39
Oil Spills 36.2
Others talking about you behind your back 7.5
Pandemic or a major epidemic 32.8
People I love becoming seriously ill 39.1
People I love dying 39.7
Police Brutality 18.4
Pollution of Drinking Water 50.4
Pollution of Oceans, Rivers and Lakes 53.1
Public Speaking 20.0
Racial/Hate Crime 20.9
Random Mass shooting 28.1
Reptiles (snakes, lizards, etc.) 23.6
Sexual Assault by a stranger 19.0
Sexual assault by someone you know 12.4
Sharks 25.4
Significant other cheating on you 7.5
Small enclosed spaces 19.8
Stalking 14.1
Strangers 8.4
Technology I don’t understand 14.9
Terrorism 38.8
Terrorist Attack 43.3
The Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare 33.9
The collapse of the electrical grid 35.7
The US will be involved in another World War 48.4
Theft of property 25.4
Walking alone at night 19.8
Whites no longer being the majority in the US 10.7
Widespread civil unrest 39.1
Zombies 5.3

*Data are unweighted


For more information and articles, visit www.chapman.edu/fearsurvey.