hat are you afraid of?
That’s the simple question explored in a new poll from Elon University, which partnered with the News & Observer of Raleigh and The Durham Herald-Sun to examine what’s keeping North Carolinians up at night.
Some of the findings weren’t surprising.
Some were sobering.
The poll had a mix of questions regarding our fears, some dealing with primal scares and some dealing with the boogeyman of modern times.
Some of the top fears involve things humans have had to face since the dawn of time: Snakes, ticks, sharks, bees, tornadoes and hurricanes. Around 30 percent of respondents said they feel “very unsafe’’ when it comes to snakes. Wasps, hornets and bees checked in as a major concern for about 20 percent of respondents; tick and shark fears were in the low 20 percent range, while tornadoes and hurricanes were a deep worry for more than 25 percent of North Carolinians.
Of course, those fears tend to be a bit situational. Folks who live near the ocean are undoubtedly more concerned about hurricanes, and shark attacks aren’t exactly a concern for people living in the friendly confines of Jackson County.
Terrorism was rated as making 33 percent of North Carolinians feel very unsafe, just ahead of the 32 percent of North Carolinians who feel very unsafe walking along roads where there’s no sidewalk.
Economic anxieties ranked fairly high, with health care costs making 27 percent of us feel very unsafe and the specter of unemployment making 17 percent of us feel very unsafe (and another 19 percent somewhat unsafe). Similarly, more than 40 percent of respondents felt very or somewhat unsafe about the cost of living.
As polls go, this one was quite comprehensive; 21 percent of respondents were aged 18 to 29; 25 percent 30 to 44; 34 percent 45 to 64; and 20 percent 65 or over. Forty-eight percent were males, 52 percent female; 26 percent of respondents were registered Republicans, 28 percent Unaffiliated or other, 32 percent were Democrats and 15 percent weren’t registered.
In other words, a pretty good picture of North Carolina’s demographics.
Again, some of the responses were dependent on an individual’s circumstances. As we noted people here don’t fret about shark attacks, people with a higher income were somewhat understandably less worried about becoming unemployed.
There was one very notable divide along such lines that jumps out in the poll about what we fear.
Fully half of respondents under the age of 30 rated public shootings as their biggest concern.
That’s about 21 percent higher than the numbers for people over 65.
The generational divide makes sense, as shootings in public places – churches, schools, concerts, nightclubs – are historically a very new phenomena, particularly the frequency of such events. It’s a fear older generations never really had to give much of a thought, because mass shootings weren’t a headline every month or week. A new generation, raised on active shooter drills and layers of security, gives such shootings a lot of credence. And justifiably so.
What’s the takeaway? Well, one is that living in fear is no way to live, and that there are solutions out there to some of these problems.
The Elon poll reflects some problems that are begging for such solutions. The possibility of losing your home or even your life because you can’t afford healthcare is a problem virtually unique to the United States among advanced democracies. We also are quite the leader in mass shootings.
A few decades ago polio stalked the land, and it’s now a problem that has been wiped from our nightmares.
Solutions to what we fear do exist and can be implemented.
We’re entering an election cycle, and we ought to be listening to those who are thinking of such solutions.
If nothing else, it’s probably wise to not listen to those fanning the flames of fear.