Large numbers of Americans stand ready for strong new government action in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.
A Los Angeles Times Poll found that more than half of the adults in the nation support quarantining AIDS patients, nearly half would approve of ID cards for those who test positive for AIDS antibodies, more than a third would be willing to pay a one-penny national sales tax to finance greater research, and one in seven would favor such radical action as tattooing those with the disease.
The poll also found great public aversion to electing homosexuals, the largest AIDS risk group, to office. And there is a reluctance to support candidates who espouse homosexual causes.
But, underscoring how this deadly disease can muddy the political waters, the poll indicates that there is a decidedly mixed audience for politicians who might try to exploit the AIDS-homosexual link. And a majority of Americans, 51% to 40%, said they favored laws to protect homosexuals against employment discrimination, AIDS notwithstanding.
The survey of 2,308 people, which was directed by Times pollster I. A. Lewis, sought to measure support for a range of proposals, some serious and some extreme, that have been suggested in the public debate for controlling the spread of AIDS. Here is how Americans responded:
- 93% would support a law allowing health care workers to wear protective garments while treating AIDS patients.
- 77% would support a law making it a crime for homosexuals or others in groups with a high risk of having AIDS to donate blood.
- 51% would support a law making it a crime for an AIDS patient to have sex with another person.
- 51% would support quarantining AIDS patients.
- 48% would support identification cards for those who test positive for AIDS antibodies. Those who test positive for AIDS antibodies may or may not develop the disease but are considered infectious to others.
- 48% would support withholding federal funds for cities that allow gay bathhouses to remain open.
- 45% would support testing job applicants for AIDS antibodies.
- 42% would support a law closing gay bars.
- 39% would support a 1-cent on the dollar national sales tax to finance greater AIDS research.
- 15% would support tattooing those with AIDS.
Despite these results, the poll found that Americans, by a 55%-29% margin, say they would send their child to a classroom where another pupil had AIDS.
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, destroys the body's immune system, leaving the victim vulnerable to a variety of tumors and infectious diseases. As of Monday, 15,581 AIDS cases and 8,002 deaths had been reported in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. AIDS is transmitted through body fluids, primarily by sexual contact and the sharing of unsterilized hypodermic needles.
Approximately three-quarters of all AIDS cases in the United States involve homosexual or bisexual men. In this context, the poll sought views on the influence and vulnerability of gays in American politics.
Only 8% of the public believes that gays have too little political power. Another 39% said they believe the political power of gays is about right, and 34% said homosexuals have too much power. More than two-thirds of those polled-- 67%--said they believe that gays today have greater political muscle than they did five years ago.
But there is little sympathy for gay political candidates. Even a whisper of suspicion about homosexuality was enough to turn almost 60% of the voters against a candidate for the office of President. Respondents in the poll were given characteristics of make-believe candidates. When a rumor of homosexuality was included in the descriptions, support for a make-believe candidate dropped from 70% to 11%.
Asked in straightforward fashion, not even 1% of those polled said they would be more likely to support a congressional candidate because the candidate was gay or lesbian. Those less likely to support this candidate totaled 47%, with 49% saying it would make no difference.
Even in cosmopolitan Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, with large and visible homosexual populations, barely 1% of the respondents said they would be more inclined to support a candidate who was gay.
The poll also asked Americans how they feel about candidates who espouse pro-homosexual views. Those less likely to vote for such a candidate outnumbered those more likely by a margin of 58% to 2%. Again, a large number, 37%, said it would not matter.
Of the major urban centers, residents of San Francisco were the most receptive to pro-gay political candidates. But even so, those less likely outnumbered those more likely to vote for such an office seeker by a 37%-4% margin; 51% said it would make no difference.
Even when it came to spending for research on a cure for AIDS, the responses turned up sentiment against gays. A total of 39% said they would want to spend more money if AIDS affected primarily the heterosexual population, while only 7% said they would want to spend less, and 48% said it made no difference.
Pollster Lewis cautioned that while the public is reticent to embrace gay candidates or causes in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, "there is not necessarily an advantage for politicians who might try to exploit this, and it might backfire."
The poll asked Americans how they view candidates who espouse strict anti-homosexual laws as a means of controlling AIDS. In response, 38% said they would be more inclined to favor such a candidate, but a nearly equal 35% would be less inclined, and 22% said it did not matter. For the most part, residents of urban areas with large gay populations answered the same as residents overall.
Another question asked whether government was paying too much attention to gays or not enough. The response was 43% believe homosexuals are getting about the right amount of attention, with the remainder split almost evenly--24% saying they get too much attention and 23% too little.
Many political leaders have speculated about possible partisan political implications of AIDS because of the Democratic Party's support for gay rights issues and its acceptance of homosexual caucuses. If there is to be any political backlash, this line of reasoning goes, Democrats would be vulnerable.
In the Times Poll, Republicans, Democrats and independents generally expressed the same kinds of views about the politics of AIDS and about the politics of the high-risk homosexual population.
But there was a noticeable contrast when asked which party was more apt to act on the side of "public welfare" over "personal liberties," a conflict of values that is common to the debate over AIDS. By a 2-1 margin, 46% to 23%, those responding said Democrats, not Republicans, were more likely to be on the side of "public welfare."
By a 60%-19% margin, the public said it approved the Democratic Party's "commitment to civil rights." But that support took a nose-dive when the question was rephrased, "Do you approve or disapprove of the Democratic Party's commitment to civil rights as it applies to homosexuals?" In this case, only 32% said they approve, with 27% disapproving and 39% unsure.
Democrats also were credited by 33% as being the best political party to deal with AIDS, while 25% said Republicans are best. This may be a reflection of the fact that 35% of those polled identified themselves as Democrats and 23% as Republicans, with 25% calling themselves independents. The remainder declined to answer or said they did not know.
The poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 5 to 12. The answers are accurate to within a margin of 3% plus or minus.
RESTRICTING AIDS VICTIMS These Los Angeles Times Poll results of interviews with 2,308 people nationwide show the percentage of those favoring a variety of proposals aimed at identifying or restricting potential AIDS victims. The responses are split among the general population, those who have a high degree of fear that they will contract the disease and those who have a low degree of fear of contracting AIDS.
REQUIRE AIDS TEST OF JOB SEEKERS
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 45% 64% 35%
REQUIRE ID CARDS FOR POTENTIAL AIDS VICTIMS
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 48% 63% 39%
QUARANTINE AIDS PATIENTS
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 51% 72% 38%
REQUIRE TATTOOS FOR AIDS PATIENTS
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 15% 29% 9%
LEVY U.S. SALES TAX TO SUPPORT RESEARCH
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 39% 48% 30%
BAR AIDS PATIENTS FROM HAVING SEX
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 51% 59% 47%
BAR HOMOSEXUALS FROM DONATING BLOOD
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 77% 76% 77%
WITHHOLD U.S. FUNDS UNLESS BATHHOUSES CLOSE
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 48% 57% 42%
ENACT LAWS TO CLOSE GAY BARS
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 42% 49% 38%
REQUIRE PROTECTIVE WORK CLOTHING
U.S. High Fear Low Fear 93% 95% 90%