For the fourth year running, Chapman University in California has run its Survey of American Fears, polling 1,207 adults from across the US about what they’re most scared of and what keeps them awake at night.
It makes for pretty grim reading, though the classic sources of nightmare fuel – spiders, evil clowns, monsters under the bed – have largely been pushed out of the list to be replaced by fears that are much more relevant to our times.
“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,” says lead researcher Christopher Bader.
“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.”
Without any further ado, here’s the top 10 rundown, in reverse order. In brackets, you can see the percentage of Americans who are “afraid or very afraid” of each entry.
10. Air pollution (44.9 percent)
Air pollution is a huge problem in many urban areas across the world, and worries about the quality of the air we breathe are propping up the top 10. The burning of fossil fuels, petrol-guzzling forms of transport, and natural disasters are all contributing to the effect.
9. North Korea using weapons (47.5 percent)
It’s not been a great year for world peace, with the sabre-rattling rhetoric exchanged between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un showing no signs of ending. A weapons strike is on the mind of nearly half of Americans.
8. Global warming and climate change (48 percent)
Unless you’re living a lot of your life under a rock, it’s hard to ignore news headlines about global warming and climate change, whether it’s collapsing glaciers, dying coral reefs, or record-breaking temperatures. Let’s hope it’s not too late to do something about it.
7. The US will be involved in another world war (48.4 percent)
See also number 9 – many Americans are afraid or very afraid of a looming global conflict which won’t benefit anyone involved. We’re trusting our government leaders to learn the lessons from the past and all get along, because ultimately everyone suffers from war.
6. High medical bills (48.4 percent)
A hot political topic right now, and one that scares almost half of Americans on a regular basis. Unfortunately illnesses and accidents aren’t particularly choosy about who they end up affecting, but we’ve seen some encouraging health developments this year as well.
5. Not having enough money in the future (50.2 percent)
Money might not bring you happiness, but it makes life a little more comfortable, and at this point we tip the scales on fears that more than half of Americans share.
People really don’t feel secure about their future financial outlook. We’re no financial experts, so the only advice we can offer is to put more value in your time.
4. Pollution of drinking water (50.4 percent)
Another issue that’s been in the news this year, thanks to the terrible events in Flint, Michigan, and this is a new entry in the top 10 for 2017. The situation is slowly getting better, but replacing all of the pipelines that need to be upgraded will take years.
3. Pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes (53.1 percent)
Another fear centred around pollution, and another new entry in the top 10 this year, which isn’t surprising considering the news reports we’ve seen about the plastics in our oceans and the detrimental effects that human activity is having on marine life.
2. American Healthcare Act (55.3 percent)
Very much a fear related to the current political climate in the US, and one that’s shared by well over half the population, according to the Chapman University survey. For now, the debate continues over the rights and wrongs of the Act in the United States Senate.
1. Corruption of government officials (74.5 percent)
And in at number one – for the third year in a row, and by some distance – is a fear of corruption in government officials. Politicians, why do you seem so untrustworthy? The possibility of corruption is playing on the minds of nearly three-quarters of Americans.
So there you have it – how many fears do you share? You can view the whole list online, including heights at 34, public speaking at 52, and unfathomable technology in at 64 (well, we’ve all been there).
As part of their research, the team from Chapman University also found that 52 percent of Americans believe that places can be haunted by spirits, and that more than a quarter of people (26 percent) think that aliens have been to Earth in modern times.
We can only assume as aliens don’t appear anywhere in the top 80 fears that the people who believe in their existence aren’t worried about their intentions.