You've probably heard over the years that public speaking tops the list of things people fear most, freaking us out more than even the inescapable existential problem of death. But fear in America has grown and shifted dramatically over the last year or two, leaving death and public speaking buried beneath a long list of more pressing things to stress about.
When Chapman University first conducted its "Survey on American Fears" in 2014, "walking alone at night" topped the list, followed by "becoming the victim of identity theft," "safety on the internet," "being the victim of a mass/random shooting" and that familiar fear of public speaking rounded out the top five.
Earlier this month Chapman released the fourth annual edition of its fears survey and "walking alone at night" has dropped all the way to be ranked number 56 on a list of 80 total fears that a sample of over 1,200 Americans were asked about. Public speaking ranks as fear number 52, while random mass shootings are at 35, safety on the internet didn't make this year's survey and fear of identity theft is ranked 14.
Instead, the top fears of 2017 are clearly driven more by the headlines of the past year, particularly the shift to the administration of President Donald Trump and the slew of new policy approaches that came with him to the White House.
For the past two years, as election season hit a fever pitch in 2016 and continuing into the transition of power in 2017, "Corrupt Government Officials" has topped the fear survey two years in a row. In 2017, it was far and away Americans' greatest fear, with 74.5 percent of respondents saying they were "afraid" or "very afraid."
In 2016, corruption was the only fear shared by a majority of Americans surveyed. But in 2017 more than 50 percent said they were afraid of not just corruption, but also of the "American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare," "pollution of oceans, rivers and lakes," "pollution of drinking water" and "not having enough money for the future."
"The 2017 survey data shows us that while some of the top fears have remained, there has also been a pronounced shift to environmental fears," said Christopher Bader, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Chapman University, who led the team effort. "We are beginning to see trends that people tend to fear what they are exposed to in the media. Many of the top 10 fears this year can be directly correlated to the top media stories of the past year."
Indeed, these are very different fears than walking down the street at night. It would seem that we lose more sleep today fearing that government will fail us compared to just a few years ago when being a victim of crime made us more afraid.
To drive that point home, note that "extinction of plant and animal species" ranks just ahead of fear of a terrorist attack and identity theft on the list.
And what about the fear that you might assume would top the list: good old-fashioned, inescapable dying?
It ranks at 48.
Apparently, according to my fellow Americans, there's nearly four dozen other things to fear more than death. Here they are, in order of the percentage of American who say they are afraid or very afraid:
|List of Fears (2017)||% Afraid or Very Afraid|
|1. Corrupt Government Officials||74.5|
|2. American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare||55.3|
|3. Pollution of Oceans, Rivers and Lakes||53.1|
|4. Pollution of Drinking Water|
|5. Not having enough money for the future||50.2|
|6. High Medical Bills||48.4|
|7. The US will be involved in another World War||48.4|
|8. Global Warming & Climate Change||48|
|9. North Korea using weapons||47.5|
|10. Air Pollution||44.9|
|11. Economic/Financial collapse||44.4|
|12. Extinction of plant and animal species||43.5|
|13. Terrorist Attack||43.3|
|14. Identity Theft||41.9|
|15. Biological Warfare||41.8|
|16. Credit Card Fraud||40.3|
|17. People I love dying||39.7|
|18. People I love becoming seriously ill||39.1|
|20. Widespread civil unrest||39.1|
|21. Nuclear Weapons attack||39|
|23. Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition||38.6|
|24. Government Tracking of personal data||37.4|
|25. Corporate Tracking of personal data||36.7|
|26. Oil Spills||36.2|
|27. The collapse of the electrical grid||35.7|
|28. Being hit by a drunk driver||35.5|
|29. The Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare||33.9|
|30. Pandemic or a major epidemic||32.8|
|31. Being unemployed||30.7|
|32. Nuclear accident/meltdown||30.3|
|33. Losing my data, photos or other important documents in a disaster||29.0|
|35. Random Mass shooting||28.1|
|36. Government use of drones within the US||27.2|
|37. Devastating drought||26.6|
|39. Becoming Seriously ill||25.7|
|40. Theft of property||25.4|
|42. Computers replacing people in the workforce||25.3|
|43. Devastating tornado||24.3|
|44. Reptiles (snakes, lizards, etc.)||23.6|
|45. Devastating earthquake||22.6|
|46. Devastating Hurricane||21.4|
|47. Racial/Hate Crime||20.9|