With Halloween creeping around the corner, Ellina Webb lifts the sheet on this year’s list of the top 10 fears that are giving us all the chills.

Last year for Halloween I wrote an article on a report by Chapman University into the top 10 American Fears in 2017. This year with the release of the 2018 report, I’m looking to see what has changed and what is still making the hairs on our arms stand up…

View the 2018 report here

View the 2017 report here

View the 2015 report here

First place

In 2017 first place in the top 10 fears went to ‘Corruption of Government Officials’. And guess what… it still holds its place in 2018. In fact, this is the fourth year in a row that this fear has hit the top spot with ¾ of American’s surveyed saying that they are afraid or very afraid of this. Looking back at the survey from 2015, this fear has gone from 58% to 61% in 2016, to 74% in 2018, highlighting that while it has maintained first position, the majority of respondents fearing this has increased significantly.

FYI the random number of survey responders in 2015 was 1,541 adults, in 2017 it was 1,207 and in 2018 it was 1,190. So are less people feeling afraid or are we less bothered by filling in a survey…

Second place

In 2017 second place in the top 10 fears went to the ‘American Healthcare Act/ Trumpcare’ which was a significant social topic at the time. Since then, as the dust has settled, the second place spot in 2018 shifted to ‘Pollution of oceans, rivers and lakes’. This environmental concern went up to 62%, from third place in 2017 with 53.1%. Maybe that’s got something to do with America being the world’s top exporter of plastic waste to places such as Malaysia where poor regulation of plastic recycling means the toxins from burning plastics pollute water and soil sources.

Pollution of water sources in the US and beyond has been a topic pushed to the forefront of the public’s mind in 2018, especially in the UK – making me wonder where this fear would be listed if we had a national survey. Documentaries about plastic pollution (most notably BBC Blue Planet 2 which also aired in the US), the countless ocean clean up initiatives that are flooding our social channels and the photos captured by photographers of the effect of ocean pollution on marine life are a constant and stark reminder of the reality of this situation.

And we mustn’t forget the alarming prediction that by 2050 there will likely be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Third place

In relation to second place, third place in the top 10 in 2018 went to ‘Pollution of drinking water’ with 60.7% of responders being afraid or very afraid of it. This was an increase from fourth place (50%) in 2017 highlighting how environmental concerns are creeping up the list.

Pollution of drinking water can be down to a number of factors, most notiable plastic pollution as I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Last week for example The Independent reported on a European wide study which discovered micro plastic particles had been swallowed by all participants. The micro plastic particles had entered their diets due to consuming food and drink such as water and seafood which researchers have discovered is highly likely to be contaminated due to high plastic levels in the sea. The food was also wrapped in plastic packaging again increasing the chance of plastic contamination.  

Organisation’s such as the ‘World Health Organisation’ also report frequently on levels of micro plastics found in water, recently announcing that researches found plastic in 90% of bottled water which was tested.

Furthermore, in American specifically it was reported in October that the ‘Environmental Working Group’ tested drinking water in communities across the US and discovered high levels of nitrate which is linked to an increase in the risk of cancer. Nitrate in water can be caused by soil contaminated with fertilisers as well as contamination of human waste.

The shift to environmental worries

Another environmental fear that crept up the top 10 list since 2017 includes air pollution which went from to 7th place from 10th place. Air pollution has been a headline hitting topic in the UK due to high levels in London in and around public spaces and buildings such as Oxford Street and schools. In the United States it is estimated that 50,000 – 120,000 people die prematurely because of bad air – even if President Trump insists that America has the cleanest air in the world “BY FAR”.

An environmental fear that dropped down the top 10 list surprising was ‘Global warming and climate change’ which went down from 8th place to 9th place but received higher percentage at 53% (due to the lower number of responders). Regardless of the perceived shift, the ranking of this concern still highlights that the public are more aware of pressing ‘unknown’ environmental issues than they are of clowns and zombies.

On that note, the fear of zombies dropped down to ranking 87 from 78, ghosts dropped to 88 from 79 and clowns dropped to 90 from 76. Again however, all the percentages for these fears increased which was likely due to the lower number of survey responders.

Final thoughts

Beyond the specifics of the fears that the survey highlights, looking back at the changing patterns in fears of the past 4 years provides a high level insight in our changing thoughts and concerns on the world around us. In 2016 not 1 environment concern made the top ten but by 2018 half of this shortlist was environment related.

So what do you fear the most?

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric