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Americans See Drugs As Nation's #2 Problem, New Gallup Poll Finds


February 1996

According to a Gallup poll released December 12, Americans see drugs as the second most serious problem facing the nation (Phillip Pina, "Drug War, Crime on Many Minds," USA Today, December 12, 1995, p. 1D).

Drugs were ranked second only to crime by respondents, and was reported as more serious than health care, welfare, and the federal budget deficit. 45% of respondents gave drug abuse the most serious rating, while 52% gave violent crime that rating. Health care was given the most serious rating by 29%, welfare by 34%, the deficit by 37%, and moral values of society by 38%. One in five respondents said that drugs were a problem personally or in their family, but most reported that drug abuse is a national problem, not a local one.

In another poll conducted by CBS News in January, only 3% of respondents said drugs were the most important problem facing the country today ("Opinion Outlook," National Journal, January 13, 1996, p. 90). The budget deficit, crime, the economy, unemployment, homelessness, the government shutdown, ethics and morality, Bosnia, Medicare, welfare, health care, and education were all more frequent responses to the open-ended poll question.

Respondents to the Gallup poll said they would favor an anti-drug strategy that involved equal measures of education and prevention, supply reduction, stiffer prosecution of drug users and dealers, and treatment. When asked to choose one area that would be most effective in reducing drug-related problems, 40% chose education (31% chose reducing the supply of drugs, 23% chose stiffer penalties and prosecution, and 4% chose treatment).

Although respondents said education is very important in preventing children from using drugs (93% would favor increasing funding for school-based anti-drug programs), people report that personal relationships and media messages are the primary influences in promoting youth drug use. Peer pressure was the most often cited influence on youth drug use (74%), followed by the entertainment industry (63%), parents (58%), professional athletes (51%), and school-based education (30%).

85% of respondents said they opposed full "legalization of all drugs" as an anti-drug strategy, with 54% saying they strongly oppose it.

Favor Oppose No Opinion
More anti-drug education in public schools 93 6 1
Increased funding for police 87 12 1
Increased funding for community education 85 13 2
Increased criminal penalties 84 13 3
Job training for "youth at risk" 83 14 3
Increased funding for drug treatment 77 21 2
Use of U.S. military in the U.S. 73 25 2
Increased workplace drug testing 71 27 2
Drug searches in high schools 67 32 1
Use of U.S. anti-drug advisors abroad 64 34 2
Mandatory high school drug testing 54 43 3
Death penalty for drug smugglers 51 48 1
Use of U.S. military abroad 50 47 3
Increased foreign crop aid 49 49 2
Increased foreign anti-drug aid 44 54 2
Full legalization 14 85 1

77% of respondents said they supported treatment programs, but only 4% chose treatment as the most effective measure to deal with the drug problem.

The survey polled 1,020 adults by telephone between September 14 and 17, 1995.

[For a copy of the results of these polls, contact the NewsBriefs office.]