Party lines split U.S. on terror threat 15 years after 9/11: poll

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WASHINGTON, Sept 7 (Reuters) - With the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks nearing, Americans are sharply divided on party lines over the threat of a major terrorist attack on the United States, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

Forty percent of Americans say the ability of terrorists to strike the United States is greater than it was at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to the Pew Research Center survey of 1,201 adults.

That share is up 6 percentage points since November 2013 and marks the highest percentage with that view over the past 14 years. Thirty-one percent of respondents say terrorists' abilities to attack are the same, and a quarter say it is less.

RELATED: Learn more about the al-Nusra terror group

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Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamist terrorist group
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Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamist terrorist group
FILE- In this picture take on Friday, March. 1, 2013, anti-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters hold the Jabhat al-Nusra flag, as they shout slogans during a demonstration, at Kafranbel town, in Idlib province, northern Syria. he head of the al-Qaida-linked group fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad was once a teacher of classical Arabic who joined the insurgency after he moved to Iraq, regional intelligence officials say. State media reported the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front leader, was killed last week, but rebels deny that, saying it was propaganda. His whereabouts are kept so secretive that no one seems to be able to say with certainty whether he is alive or dead or where he is based. But his resume, as outlined by the officials, shows him rising through al-Qaidaâs ranks in Iraq before moving to Syria shortly after the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, March 17, 2012 file photo, Syrian security officers gather in front the damaged building of the aviation intelligence department, which was attacked by one of two explosions in Damascus, Syria. A new al-Qaida-style group claimed Wednesday, March 21, 2012 that it carried out the double suicide bombing that killed dozens. Foreign Islamic militants fighting Syria's regime pose a dilemma for the country's rebels, and nothing typifies the problem more than Jabhat al-Nusra, a shadowy group of veterans of jihad in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. Some rebels worry the group is too radical, using al-Qaida-style tactics of suicide bombings. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)
ALEPPO, SY - FEBRUARY 13: Yahea Ateq, a fighter in the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra faction, was a stone mason before joining the civil war and returned to the fight just days after suffering three bullet wounds that stopped just short of his heart. (Paul Watson/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
A wall in the Syrian city of Raqqa reads: 'Stay away, this property belongs to Muslims. (Signed) Jabhat al Nusra.' Jabhat al Nusra, a group calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria, has recently clashed with rebel groups that espouse a more moderate interpretation of Islam. (David Enders/MCT via Getty Images)
Jabhat al Nusra, a radical Islamist group linked to Al Qaida, controls the gas production plant and other key components in the economy of Ash Shaddadi, eastern Syria, rendering -- it in the eyes of the United States and its Mideast allies -- a potentially a self-sustaining self-declared terror entity. (Andree Kaiser/MCT via Getty Images)
Jabhat al Nusra, a radical Islamist group linked to Al Qaida, controls the gas production plant and other key components in the economy of Ash Shaddadi, eastern Syria, rendering -- it in the eyes of the United States and its Mideast allies -- a potentially a self-sustaining self-declared terror entity. (Andree Kaiser/MCT via Getty Images)
Syrian Kurds mourn over a picture of a relative as his body is transported from a hospital before the burial on August 27, 2013 of three Kurdish militia fighters from the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) who were reportedly killed in an attack on their checkpoint by militants from the radical Islamist group Jabhat Al-Nusra in the Kurdish town of Derik, known in Arabic as al-Malikiyah, in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh governorate, on the border with Turkey and Iraq. A new wave of Syrians began pouring into northern Iraq in mid-August, seeking refuge from fighting between Kurdish forces and Islamist rebels, as well as from an economy in tatters. Syria's Kurds, who number over two million and are concentrated in the north and northeast of the country. AFP PHOTO/BENJAMIN HILLER (Photo credit should read BENJAMIN HILLER/AFP/Getty Images)
Jabhat al Nusra, a radical Islamist group linked to Al Qaida, controls the gas production plant and other key components in the economy of Ash Shaddadi, eastern Syria, rendering -- it in the eyes of the United States and its Mideast allies -- a potentially a self-sustaining self-declared terror entity. (Andree Kaiser/MCT via Getty Images)
Jabhat al Nusra, a radical Islamist group linked to Al Qaida, controls the gas production plant and other key components in the economy of Ash Shaddadi, eastern Syria, rendering -- it in the eyes of the United States and its Mideast allies -- a potentially a self-sustaining self-declared terror entity. (Andree Kaiser/MCT via Getty Images)
Jabhat al Nusra, a radical Islamist group linked to Al Qaida, controls the gas production plant and other key components in the economy of Ash Shaddadi, eastern Syria, rendering -- it in the eyes of the United States and its Mideast allies -- a potentially a self-sustaining self-declared terror entity. (Andree Kaiser/MCT via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 file citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, wave their brigade flag, as they step on the top of a Syrian air force helicopter at Taftanaz air base that was captured by the rebels in Idlib province, northern Syria. The Nusra Front, Syria's al-Qaida affiliate, is consolidating power in territory stretching from the Turkish border to central and southern Syria, crushing moderate opponents and forcibly converting minorities using tactics akin to its ultraconservative rival, the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 file photo, citizen journalism image provided by an anti-Bashar Assad activist group Edlib News Network (ENN), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, sit on a truck full of ammunition at Taftanaz air base, that was captured by the rebels in Idlib province, northern Syria. The Nusra Front, Syria's al-Qaida affiliate, is consolidating power in territory stretching from the Turkish border to central and southern Syria, crushing moderate opponents and forcibly converting minorities using tactics akin to its ultraconservative rival, the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN, File)
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"The growth in the belief that terrorists are now better able to launch a major strike on the U.S. has come almost entirely among Republicans," the Pew Research Center said.

Fifty-eight percent of Republicans say terrorists' ability to hit the United States in a major attack is greater than at the time of 9/11, up 18 points since 2013, it said.

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The poll results marked the first time that a majority in either political party had expressed that opinion, the Pew center said.

About a third of independents, or 34 percent, and 31 percent of Democrats say terrorists are better able to strike the United States than they were then. Those views are up 2 percentage points each from three years ago, according to the survey.

The partisan divide is in line with other opinion sampling on the U.S. government's ability to deal with terrorism, Pew said.

In an April Pew poll, three-quarters of Democrats said the government was doing very or fairly well in reducing the threat from terrorism, while 29 percent of Republicans said the same.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are a powerful memory for many Americans. Almost 3,000 people died when hijackers slammed airliners into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field

Ninety-one percent of the adults surveyed remember exactly where they were or what they were doing when they heard news about the attacks. Among those under 30, 83 percent said the same.

The Pew survey was conducted by telephone from Aug. 23 to Sept. 2. The margin of error is 3.2 percentage points, meaning results could vary that much either way.

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