Open Access Open Badges Research article

Alert but less alarmed: a pooled analysis of terrorism threat perception in Australia

Garry Stevens1*, Kingsley Agho1, Melanie Taylor1, Alison L Jones2, Jennifer Jacobs1, Margo Barr3 and Beverley Raphael1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney, Building EV, Parramatta Campus, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith NSW DC2751, Australia

2 Graduate School of Medicine, Building 28, University of Wollongong, NSW, 2522, Australia

3 Centre for Epidemiology and Research, New South Wales Department of Health, 73 Miller Street, North Sydney, NSW, 2060, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:797  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-797

Published: 12 October 2011



Previous Australian research has highlighted disparities in community perceptions of the threat posed by terrorism. A study with a large sample size is needed to examine reported concerns and anticipated responses of community sub-groups and to determine their consistency with existing Australian and international findings.


Representative samples of New South Wales (NSW) adults completed terrorism perception questions as part of computer assisted telephone interviews (CATI) in 2007 (N = 2081) and 2010 (N = 2038). Responses were weighted against the NSW population. Data sets from the two surveys were pooled and multivariate multilevel analyses conducted to identify health and socio-demographic factors associated with higher perceived risk of terrorism and evacuation response intentions, and to examine changes over time.


In comparison with 2007, Australians in 2010 were significantly more likely to believe that a terrorist attack would occur in Australia (Adjusted Odd Ratios (AOR) = 1.24, 95%CI:1.06-1.45) but felt less concerned that they would be directly affected by such an incident (AOR = 0.65, 95%CI:0.55-0.75). Higher perceived risk of terrorism and related changes in living were associated with middle age, female gender, lower education and higher reported psychological distress. Australians of migrant background reported significantly lower likelihood of terrorism (AOR = 0.52, 95%CI:0.39-0.70) but significantly higher concern that they would be personally affected by such an incident (AOR = 1.57, 95%CI:1.21-2.04) and having made changes in the way they live due to this threat (AOR = 2.47, 95%CI:1.88-3.25). Willingness to evacuate homes and public places in response to potential incidents increased significantly between 2007 and 2010 (AOR = 1.53, 95%CI:1.33-1.76).


While an increased proportion of Australians believe that the national threat of terrorism remains high, concern about being personally affected has moderated and may reflect habituation to this threat. Key sub-groups remain disproportionately concerned, notably those with lower education and migrant groups. The dissonance observed in findings relating to Australians of migrant background appears to reflect wider socio-cultural concerns associated with this issue. Disparities in community concerns regarding terrorism-related threat require active policy consideration and specific initiatives to reduce the vulnerabilities of known risk groups, particularly in the aftermath of future incidents.

Terrorism; threat perception; habituation; ethnicity; education; psychological distress