This is what Americans are afraid of most

A person is dressed in a scary costume in a local house turned into a haunted one during Halloween celebrations in Leucadia, California October 31, 2011.   REUTERS/Mike Blake   (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY)

A University has released a survey of American fears for 2017 and there is a significant shift from last year Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake

Christopher Ingraham
Writer, Wonk Blog
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how United States is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

United States

Just in time for Halloween, Chapman University has released its fourth annual survey of American fears.

Among other things, the survey asks respondents how afraid they are of more than 70 scary subjects, including spiders, medical bills and thermonuclear war.

Relative to last year, the list shows there has been a shift in anxieties with the dawn of the Trump administration. “The 2017 list of fears clearly reflects political unrest and uncertainty in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president,” the study's authors wrote.

Government corruption was tops on this year's list, with 75 percent of respondents saying they were afraid of it, up from 61 percent last year. Beyond corruption, people were most concerned about health care, North Korea and pollution, a reflection in part of the topics in the news when the survey was administered this spring.

Below you'll find a chart comparing the complete lists of fears last year and this year. It's long, so look it over, and we'll meet at the bottom to discuss.

Image: Chapman Univeristy

One thing to note about these numbers: The survey didn't ask people to rate their fears against each other. They simply asked whether they were afraid of each item on the list.

Americans' #2 fear wasn't even on the list last year: Trumpcare. More than 55 percent of respondents said they were afraid or very afraid of the Trump administration's attempts to repeal Obamacare. On the other hand, about 34 percent said they were afraid of Obamacare.

The pollution of oceans, lakes, rivers and drinking water occupies the next two slots on the 2017 list of top fears, a big change from previous years. “Environmental issues never cracked the top ten fears in our previous surveys,” Chapman's authors wrote.

They believe the change is related to what's been going on in Washington this year — when the survey was administered in May, for instance, the Trump administration was considering whether to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. The administration was also firing Environmental Protection Agency scientists around that time.

Other environmental anxieties in the top 10 included air pollution (45 percent feared it, more than double the 21 percent who feared it last year) and climate change (feared by 48 percent, up from 32 percent).

A perennial anxiety is not having enough money for the future, which appeared in the top 10 fears both this year and last. The share of Americans citing that as a concern increased to 50 percent, up from 40 percent last year.

Another big category of fear this year is existential threats. Last year, for instance, about one-third of Americans were worried about the country getting involved with another world war. This year, closer to 50 percent rate that as a fear.

Have you read?

Similarly, 48 percent of Americans say they're worried about North Korea's nuclear ambitions, which wasn't asked about last year.

Also notable in this year's list of top fears is what's absent from it: terrorism, the death of loved ones, and government restrictions on guns. While similar numbers of people said they fear those events relative to last year, this year they have been superseded by the other concerns listed above.

Going farther down the list things start to get a little esoteric. Sharks, for instance, are about as frightful (25 percent) to people as serious illness, theft, and computers taking their jobs. People ranked reptiles as slightly more scary than hurricanes, although, had the survey been conducted after the summer's record-breaking storm season those numbers would have been different.

There has also been a drop in the percent of people who say that they're afraid of whites losing their majority status in this country, from 18 percent last year to 11 percent this year. Americans now rank that inevitableevent as about as scary as the risk of a massive volcanic eruption.

The least-scary thing on the list this year? “Animals,” which are feared by less than 4 percent of the population — just below the percent of respondents who said they were afraid of ghosts and zombies.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum