Terrorism is not perceived as the most potent threat to everyday life despite claims by policy makers, according to new research at the University of Exeter.
Academics in the politics department identified a significant gap between what the government says are the biggest security threats facing the UK and the real fears of the population.
The researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Warwick asked people whether they were aware of the government's attempts to make them feel more secure and whether these make them feel more secure.
They found people tend to perceive security threats across a range of different levels – global, national, community, family, and individual.
The single biggest threat identified at all levels was the economic crisis, which was cited by 17% of respondents compared with only 3% citing terrorism.
The research revealed showed that those who think there are more national threats tend to be more intolerant of minorities and have a stronger white identity.
Dr Daniel Stevens, from the University of Exeter, explained: "There has been an assumption that 'threat is threat' and that feeling threatened has a host of effects on political attitudes such as making people less tolerant, more aggressive, and more likely to stereotype groups.
"But our research suggests this is not the case: people who see more threats to the world actually appear to be more tolerant and less likely to stereotype.
"This suggests that identifying threats beyond national borders – although they are still threats – reflects a different political outlook and therefore has different consequences."
In recent years successive British governments have been keen to reassure the public and reduce feelings of being threatened, whilst heightening collective levels of security.
Dr Nick Vaughan-Williams from the University of Warwick said: "In particular, terrorism was not perceived to be a significant threat to individuals, families, and communities. Interviewees were more concerned about social disorder, Islamaphobia, the far right, and UK foreign policy – issues not commonly thought of as security threats in academic and policy making circles."
Dr Stevens added: "Overall, the research highlights multiple insecurities and implies the need for new ways of thinking about 'national security in policy and practice'."
The researchers led detailed focus groups across the UK and conducted a nationwide survey as part of the project which looked at public attitudes towards security threats.
Despite the government tripling its spending on national security to more than £3.5 billion since 2001, little is known about the real fears of ordinary people.