If it’s spooky season, it’s time for The Chapman University Survey of American Fears (CSAF) to reveal the top 10 fears in America! The CSAF is an ongoing project, now in its ninth year. Conducted annually, it follows trends over time and identifies new fears as they emerge. The survey is a nationally representative sample that gives us insight into what terrifies America.
Christian Grevin (Political Science and History, ‘22) compiled the list from the work of Wilkinson College Undergraduate Research Fellows in the Henley Lab and Babbie Center (including Grevin) who have also completed research papers based on their participation in the Study of American Fears. This year’s topics range from fear of being the victim of mass shootings, to fears related to Jan. 6th and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government to fears related to immigration and gun control. Fears are ranked by the percent of Americans who reported being afraid or very afraid.
|Top 10 Fears of 2022
|% of Very Afraid or Afraid
|1. Corrupt government officials
|2. People I love becoming seriously ill
|3. Russia using nuclear weapons
|4. People I love dying
|5. The U.S. becoming involved in another world war
|6. Pollution of drinking water
|7. Not having enough money for the future
|8. Economic/financial collapse
|9. Pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes
|10. Biological warfare
General Overview of America’s Top 10 Fears 2022
The top 10 fears found in the 2022 survey suggest that Americans’ fears center on five main topics: corrupt government officials (number 1), harm to a loved one (numbers 2 & 4), war (numbers 3, 5, & 10), environmental concerns (numbers 6 & 9), and economic concerns numbers 7 & 8).
Corrupt Government Officials
Fear of corrupt government officials has remained the greatest fear for yet another year since first landing in the spot in 2015. The fear, however, has experienced a steep drop from 79.6% (2020/21) to 62.1% (2022), the lowest it has been since 2016.
Harm to Loved Ones
The fear of harm befalling a loved one has been prevalent over the past few years with both fear of “people I love becoming seriously ill” and fear of “people I love dying” landing in the top 10 list every year except for 2017. The two fears have even remained in the top 5 since 2019, showing the prominence of these fears within the American population. Interestingly, Americans tend to fear more for the health and safety of loved ones than their own. Of those surveyed only 29% were afraid of dying themselves, while 58.1% were afraid of a loved one dying. The same relationship is true when looking at the fear regarding illness. Of those surveyed only 41.7% were afraid of becoming seriously ill themselves, while 60.2% were afraid of a loved one becoming seriously ill. Although this fear has been prominent among Americans since first asked in 2014, the pandemic has most likely drawn greater attention to health-related issues and elevated fears among the public.
Nuclear Attack from Russia
For the first time ever, the fear survey included a question regarding Russia using nuclear weapons. Despite this being the first time the question was included it landed within the top three fears, with 59.6% of Americans being afraid of Russia using nuclear weapons. The war between Russia and Ukraine – and the media attention this conflict has garnered – explains this fear. The last time a similar fear landed in the top 10 was in 2017, with fear of North Korea using weapons placing at number nine. Fear of Russia using nuclear weapons seems to be representative of a more overarching fear of Americans centered around war, as two other top 10 fears – the U.S. becoming involved in another world war and biological warfare – fall under the topic.
Environmental Concerns in America
Fears of environmental degradation and climate change were prominent among Americans in previous surveys, however, over the past few years, there seems to be a shift away from these fears with focus falling elsewhere. For the first time, in 2017, four of the top 10 fears were centered around the environment. This number increased to five for both 2018 and 2019, with pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes ranking as the second highest fear for both years. The attention placed on environmental issues abruptly dropped off in the 2020/21 survey, with only pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes remaining in the top 10. Americans’ fears were drawn elsewhere like the coronavirus pandemic and tense political climate.
However, there seems to be a return towards environmental concern in the most recent survey with both pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes and pollution of drinking water returning into the top 10 list. Fear of pollution of drinking water increased from 44.6% (2020/21) to 54.5% (2022) moving it up over ten spots and placing it as the 6th greatest fear among the American public. As greater distance is placed between the United States and the height of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be interesting to see if environmental concerns continue to reemerge in the top 10 list, or if Americans continue to find their attention diverted to other issues.
Economic Concerns in America
Since the fear survey was first conducted, at least one fear concerning economic matters has landed in the top 10. Given the United States’ history with economic crises – like the Great Depression and the Great Recession – it is no surprise that fear of economic well-being for both the individual and the nation is of concern to Americans. The recent media coverage of a potential recession plaguing the country, in combination with the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and inflation woes, could help to explain the presence of both the fear of not having enough money for the future and the fear of economic/financial collapse in the top 10 list of 2022.