Julian Borger, Thomas Kirchner, Thibault Petit, Adam Leszczynski, Francesca Paci, Ana Carbajosa
What scares the British? It depends on how you ask the question. If it is about threats to the world or to the nation, the answer is quite consistently terrorism and religious extremism. Closer to home, it is knife crime and burglary. If you want to dig a bit deeper, the most common personal fears are heights, snakes and public speaking.
International terrorism is seen in the UK as the biggest threat facing the world by far. It topped a YouGov poll of the public’s global concerns last September, with 77% of those questioned naming it as the most serious issue, significantly ahead of armed conflicts (60%), pandemics (52%), climate change (39%) and nuclear proliferation (31%).
That was more than a year after the last lethal terrorism incident on British soil, the murder of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in London. But the poll was conducted just a few days after Islamic State extremists had carried out their first filmed beheading of a British hostage.
The high awareness of the terrorist threat, and high sensitivity to it, seem to be consistent over time and polls. An in-depth analysis of public threat perceptions soon to be published in the British Journal of Political Science based on surveys in 2012 found that about 80% of respondents ranked terrorism as a global threat. It was also seen as a national threat by close to 70%.
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