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AIDS Issue Fades Among Americans

But Still The Number One Ranked Health Problem

by David W. Moore

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- In the past decade Americans' concern about AIDS as a public health issue has declined substantially, as have their worries about personally contracting the disease. Still, compared to a Gallup poll on AIDS conducted ten years ago this month, some attitudes have remained remarkably consistent.

A decade ago, over two-thirds of all Americans identified AIDS as "the most urgent health problem facing this country at the present time." Five years ago, 41% cited AIDS and another 30% cited the costs of health care as the most urgent health problems. Today, just 29% say AIDS is the most urgent health problem, with 15% mentioning cancer, and another 15% mentioning health care costs.

Concerns about personally contracting the disease have also declined. In October, 1987, 42% expressed some degree of concern about getting AIDS, compared with 30% who feel that way today.

Some attitudes about AIDS have not changed very much. Today, just over half of all Americans feel the government is not doing enough about the problem, virtually identical to the sentiment expressed ten years ago. And today just under half say that people with the AIDS virus should be made to carry a card indicating they have AIDS, while in 1987 just over half felt that way.

Moral Implications of AIDS
The public is somewhat less critical of those who get AIDS than it was a decade ago, but 31% of Americans still believe that AIDS is a punishment for a decline in moral standards (compared with 43% who felt that way ten years ago), and 40% say that the victims of AIDS are themselves to blame for getting the disease (compared with 51% who felt that way in 1987).

Ways to Avoid AIDS
The major change in public attitudes over the past decade concerns the steps that people need to take to avoid AIDS. In 1987, 43% of Americans said they avoided associating with people who might have AIDS, while only 15% do that today. Similarly, 28% used to avoid public rest rooms to lessen their chances of getting AIDS, compared with just 12% today.

Many Americans are still concerned about the blood supply in hospitals, with 33% saying they would avoid elective surgery that would require blood transfusions. Ten years ago, 42% expressed a similar sentiment.

One of the most drastic steps to avoid AIDS -- isolating people with AIDS from the rest of society -- was supported by 21% of Americans in 1987, but by just 7% today.

METHODOLOGY
The current results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 872 adults, conducted October 3-5, 1997. For results based on a sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus 4 percentage points. 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.

What would you say is the most urgent health problem facing this country at the present time?

Most Urgent Health Problem - Trend
  May Nov
  1987 1991 1991 1992 1997
AIDS 68% 45% 55% 41% 29%
Cancer 14 16 6 5 15
Health care costs/insurance 1 12 21 30 15
Drugs 3 4 -- -- 5
Heart disease 7 2 2 2 3
Smoking 2 * -- -- 2
Malnutrition/hunger 2 2 -- -- 1
Alcohol abuse 1 * -- -- 1
Other 6 13 13 18 24
No opinion 3 4 3 4 5
  ___
107%
___
98%
___
100%
___
100%
___
100%
* Less than 0.5%          
Note: Numbers may not add to 100% due to rounding/multiple answers

How concerned are you that you, yourself, will get AIDS -- very concerned, a little concerned, not very concerned, or not at all concerned?

How Concerned Will Contract? - Trend
  Very A little Not very Not at all No opinion
1997 Oct 3-5 13% 17 22 48 *
1992 Mar 26-29 14% 21% 22% 42% *
1991 Nov 14-17 17% 22 21 39 1
1991 Aug-Sep 25% 20 19 35 1
1989 Nov 16-19 15% 21 21 42 1
1988 Oct 21-24 7 2 2 2 3
1988 Jul 1-7 17% 22 21 40 11
1987 Oct 23-26 20% 22 21 37 *
* Less than 0.5%  

Which of the following steps, if any, have you yourself taken or do you plan to take to avoid contracting AIDS? First, [item]..how about.. (RANDOM ORDER)

Steps Taken or Planned- Trend
    Yes No No opinion
Avoiding elective surgery that would require blood transfusions          
1997 Oct 3-5   33% 62 5
1987 Jun 8-14   42% 54 4
Not associating with people you suspect might have AIDS          
1997 Oct 3-5   15% 82 3
1987 Jun 8-14   43% 49 8
Avoiding the use of restrooms in public facilities        
1997 Oct 3-5   12% 86 2
1987 Jun 8-14   28% 71 1

I am going to read some statements about AIDS. As I read each statement, please say whether you agree or disagree with it. (RANDOM ORDER)

Opinions- Trend
    Agree Disagree No opinion
The government is not doing enough about the problem of AIDS          
1997 Oct 3-5   51% 43 6
1987 Oct 23-26   53% 37 10
People with the AIDS virus should be made to carry a card indicating they have AIDS          
1997 Oct 3-5   47% 51 2
1987 Oct 23-26   54% 38 8
In general, it's people's own fault if they get AIDS        
1997 Oct 3-5   40% 57 3
1987 Oct 23-26   51% 44 5
I sometimes think that AIDS is a punishment for the decline in moral standards        
1997 Oct 3-5   31% 66 3
1987 Oct 23-26   43% 50 7
People with AIDS should be isolated from the rest of society        
1997 Oct 3-5   7% 91 2
1987 Oct 23-26   21%% 71 8

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