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Corruption, Clowns and American Fears

Corruption, Clowns, and American Fears

A recently completed “Survey of American Fears” by Chapman University found that corruption of government officials tops the list of what we fear.

The second annual survey by the California university asked more than 1,500 adults from across the nation about their fears in a broad range of categories, ranging from government, crime, the environment, the future, technology, aging, sickness and health, natural and man-made disasters — as well as claustrophobia, clowns, and a host of others.

The survey shows that the top 10 things Americans fear the most are:

  1. Corruption of government officials;
  2. Cyber-terrorism;
  3. Corporate tracking of personal information;
  4. Terrorist attacks;
  5. Government tracking of personal information;
  6. Bio-warfare;
  7. Identity theft;
  8. Economic collapse;
  9. Running out of money in the future;
  10. Credit card fraud.

“The 2015 survey data shows us the top fears are heavily based in economic and ‘big brother’ type issues,” said Christopher Bader, Ph.D., who led the survey. “People often fear what they cannot control, and technology and the future of our economy are two aspects of life that Americans find very unpredictable at the moment.”

A new element to this year’s survey was a question about whether people had acted out of fear. What researchers found is that nearly one in four Americans report having voted for a particular candidate due to their fears; and more than 10 percent have purchased a gun due to fear. Other behaviors driven by fear are sending kids to private schools and purchasing a home alarm system.

“Fear of the government had the strongest relationship with buying a gun because of fear,” said L. Edward Day, Ph.D., and lead researcher on this portion of the survey. “People who have purchased a gun because of fear also have high levels of fear of technology and crime.”

More than half of those surveyed fear they will experience a natural or manmade disaster. Further, 86 percent believe an emergency kit would improve their chances of surviving a disaster, but 72 percent indicate they have made no effort to put together such a kit.

“We found a major disconnect between people’s expectations of what would happen in a disaster and the reality of a disaster’s aftermath,” said Ann Gordon, Ph.D., and lead researcher on the disaster portion of the survey.

“The number one excuse given by Americans for not having an emergency kit is that they expect first responders to come to their aid immediately — this is an unrealistic belief in the wake of a natural disaster.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross officials suggest that people have their own food, water, prescription medication, and other supplies for at least 72 hours following a disaster, as local officials may not be able to reach everyone immediately.

This year’s survey also included questions about paranormal beliefs ranging from Bigfoot and psychic powers to haunted houses and the power of dreams. The data shows more than 40 percent of Americans believe that places can be haunted by spirits. More than one-fourth believe that the living and the dead can communicate with each other.

About 20 percent believe that aliens visited Earth in the ancient past, and that dreams can foretell the future.

“Overall, the survey showed that half of Americans believe in something paranormal,” said Bader. “But that also means half of Americans do not believe in anything paranormal.”

The survey also shed light on certain characteristics of people who believe in the paranormal, according to the researchers. People with the highest levels of paranormal beliefs have the following traits:

  • low levels of church attendance;
  • non-white;
  • Catholic;
  • no college degree;
  • female;
  • unmarried;
  • living in the Northeast.

The research team pared the information down into 10 major “domains” of fear, which encapsulates all of the 88 individual fears the survey addressed. On average, Americans’ fears lay highest in the domains of man-made disasters, such as terrorist attacks, followed by technology, and then the government, such as corruption and Obamacare.

A comprehensive list of all the fears from “The Chapman Survey on American Fears” can be found here.

Source: Chapman University

Corruption, Clowns, and American Fears

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Corruption, Clowns, and American Fears. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 17 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.