PRINCETON, NJ -- Both smokers and overweight people face a certain amount of societal disapproval in the United States, but the situation is worse for smokers. One in four Americans report having less respect for someone who smokes, twice the level who say they have less respect for a person who is overweight (12%).
Society Growing Less Tolerant of Smokers
Anti-smoker bias is higher today than it was two decades ago, when between 14% and 17% of Americans said they had less respect for smokers. The expansion of the nonsmoking population over the same period may partly explain this, as the percentage of adult smokers has fallen from 27% to 22%.
Naturally, nonsmokers are the primary source of bias against smokers. Thirty percent say they have less respect for smokers, while just 5% of smokers share this view. However, former smokers are nearly as likely as adults who have never smoked -- 24% vs. 33% -- to look down on smokers.
Older Americans (aged 65 and older), those with at least a college degree, and upper-income Americans (those earning $75,000 or more annually) are among the least likely U.S. adults to smoke and, correspondingly, are among the most likely to report having less respect for smokers.
Bias Toward Overweight Most Pronounced Among High Income, College Educated
In contrast, Gallup finds a fairly narrow gulf in respect for overweight people between those who are overweight and those who are not. More than four in five adults in both groups indicate that their respect for people is not influenced by others' weight.
However, there are sharp differences by socio-economic status, with high-income and college-educated Americans particularly likely to say they have less respect for people who are overweight.
One reason Americans may feel less bias toward overweight people than toward smokers is that the former are far more prevalent in society -- nearly half in the July poll described themselves as overweight (42%) or very overweight (6%). Therefore, even if Americans are not overweight themselves, most are likely to have relatives, coworkers, or close friends who are overweight, increasing their sympathy for the condition.
Further, Gallup's question asked Americans about their reactions to "overweight" people, and thus does not address whether they harbor more bias toward obese people than toward those who are moderately or only slightly overweight. Additionally, while a larger proportion of Americans now say they have "less respect" for smokers, the percentage saying they have less respect for overweight people (12%) is down slightly from 16% in 2003.
With one in four Americans admitting to having less respect for smokers, smokers in the U.S. face not only serious health risks and higher insurance rates, but a significant social handicap. This aspect of smoking has intensified over the past two decades as smokers' share of the population has declined. Overweight people may also feel the sting of social criticism, but it appears to be less routine than for smokers.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 7-10, 2011, with a random sample of 1,016 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.