Survey: Government Corruption, Economy, World War Top Americans’ Greatest Fears in 2023

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Survey: Government Corruption, Economy, World War Top Americans’ Greatest Fears in 2023

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York on March 7, 2023. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

10/30/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

A new poll of adults shows about 60 percent of Americans fear corrupt government officials, followed by economic or financial collapse, Russia’s nuclear weapons, and becoming involved in another World War, according to the latest “American Fears” survey by Chapman University.
The annual survey, conducted this spring, involved asking 1,014 people over age 18 across the nation about 97 different fears ranging from the environment, government, the economy, war, natural disasters, and other subjects.
In general, this year’s results showed that Americans fear five main topics the most: government corruption, the economy, war and terror, the harming or death of loved ones, and drinking water pollution.
The results were reminiscent of last year’s, when corruption, nuclear war, and money concerns topped the list.
This year’s “top 10 list is very similar to last year’s, comprising most of the same fears in varying order,” said Chapman University student Samuel Andrus, who compiled the list from the work of the university’s Wilkinson College undergraduate research, in an article describing the results. “The only exception is the replacement of the fear of pollution in oceans, rivers, and lakes with the fear of cyber-terrorism, both occupying the number 9 position.”
Although the fear of corrupt government officials still ranks first, Americans have become less afraid of the issue. In the 2020/2021 survey, nearly 80 percent of respondents said they were afraid or very afraid of it.
American flags blow in the wind as cars line up to participate in a Freedom Convoy in Lansing, Michigan, on Feb. 20, 2022. (Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

American flags blow in the wind as cars line up to participate in a Freedom Convoy in Lansing, Michigan, on Feb. 20, 2022. (Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

“Skepticism of government is baked into America’s political culture, and fear of corrupt government officials has remained the [No. 1] fear in America since first topping the chart eight years ago in 2015,” Mr. Andrus said.
However, the percentage of respondents who are very afraid or afraid of corrupt government officials has dropped from about 62 percent to 60 percent this year, according to the results.
The survey’s authors attributed the drop to Congress’s January 6th hearings attempting to hold perpetrators accountable and the “relative mundanity” of President Biden’s administration.
Meanwhile, economic concerns in America are increasing, the survey showed. Since the first such survey by Chapman University in 2013, at least one fear related to the economy has appeared in the top 10.
This year, fear of economic or financial collapse was second on the list, increasing from last year when it ranked number 8. This year, nearly 55 percent of respondents said they were very afraid or afraid of the matter.
“Considering this year’s high interest rates, high inflation, and unexpected banking crisis; economic recession was something a lot of Americans were afraid of, helping to explain why fear of economic/financial collapse ranked so high,” Mr. Andrus said.
Americans are also still feeling the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tech industry layoffs also made it hard to make ends meet for many, according to the university.
A worker hangs plywood on the exterior of a closed business in San Francisco, Calif., on April 16, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A worker hangs plywood on the exterior of a closed business in San Francisco, Calif., on April 16, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The topic of war and terror was added to the school’s annual survey last year and quickly rose to one of the top fears, with fear of Russia using nuclear weapons ranking third as nearly 60 percent surveyed said they were afraid or very afraid on the issue. It maintained its position this year, but fewer people said they were afraid of it, as it dropped to about 53 percent.
The survey team attributed its continued high ranking to ongoing media coverage of the war in Ukraine and the uncertainty of whether Vladmir Putin might use nuclear weapons.
The war in Ukraine may have contributed to a greater fear of the U.S. becoming involved in a third world war, according to the survey. That fear has risen from fifth to fourth this year.
Respondents additionally indicated they are also afraid of people they love becoming seriously ill, which ranked fifth and sixth this year, respectively, followed by drinking water pollution which was ranked No. 7. Half of respondents said they were afraid or very afraid of these fears.
A trend seen again this year was the public’s diminishing environmental concerns.
Starting in 2017, four of the top 10 fears were related to the environment. In 2018 and 2019, five out of the top 10 were about the subject, including pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes holding second place both years.
This year, the fear of pollution in drinking water remained in the top 10, but dropped to seventh place from sixth in 2022.
Also included on this year’s top 10 list are the fears of biological warfare and cyber-terrorism, ranking eighth and ninth. About 49 percent of people surveyed said they were afraid or very afraid of these fears.
Last on the top 10 for this year was the fear of not having enough money for the future. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they were afraid or very afraid of this.
Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

Author

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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