skip to main content
Gallup Vault
Gallup Vault: The Opening Salvo in the War on Drugs
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: The Opening Salvo in the War on Drugs

In July 1951, Dr. George Gallup reported on Americans' familiarity with the news at that time about drug smuggling and sales to teenagers, saying:

"Few happenings have so aroused the American public as has the teenage narcotics scandal. Many more people have heard or read about these revelations than about the famed MacArthur hearings which dominated the headlines for eight weeks."

1951: Americans' Awareness of Teenage Drug Problem
Have you heard or read anything about the selling of narcotics (dope), such as opium, to young teenage people in this country?
Yes% No%
U.S. adults 88 12
Gallup, June 16-21, 1951

The poll, showing that 88% of Americans had heard of the narcotics problem, was conducted a month after U.S. officials at the United Nations warned that smuggling heroin into the U.S. was the country's biggest drug problem. The poll also started the day before federal officials addressed the issue at an anti-drug conference in New York City, sponsored by the American Legion. According to a July 18, 1951, New York Times report on the conference, "The problem is most acute in New York, the Legion meeting was told by Assistant District Attorney Irving Slonim, with street sales of narcotics amounting to at least $100,000,000 annually. Mounting prices of narcotics 'shots,' he said, had driven many young addicts to crime to obtain funds for supplies, bringing the problem into the open."

In the same poll, Gallup asked Americans if they thought drugs were being sold in their community and what the penalty should be for anyone convicted of "selling dope to teenagers." The answers suggested the problem, or at least awareness of it, was far greater in urban than in suburban or rural areas, and that the vast majority of Americans favored long imprisonment, including 21% favoring a life sentence. Fourteen percent favored the death penalty.

Do you think any dope is being sold to teenagers in this city (community)?
Yes, sold% No, not sold% Unsure%
U.S. adults 32 49 19
Community size
500,000+ 70 14 16
100,000 to 499,999 38 34 28
10,000 to 99,999 24 52 24
Less than 10,000 10 70 20
Gallup, June 16-21, 1951

What penalty do you think should be given to anyone who is convicted of selling dope to teenagers?
U.S. adults%
Death/Electric chair 14
Life imprisonment 21
Imprisonment 6+ years 16
Serious jail term/Severe sentence/Hard labor in penitentiary 28
Imprisonment to limit law allows 10
Imprisonment 5 years or less 3
Heavily fined 2
Medical treatment 1
Miscellaneous 1
No opinion 5
Gallup, June 16-21, 1951

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030