The Times Poll : 42% Would Limit Civil Rights in AIDS Battle

Times Medical Writer

Many Americans are prepared to accept very strong measures to battle the mounting AIDS epidemic, and 42% believe that some civil liberties must be suspended in the effort, according to the Los Angeles Times Poll.

When asked “do you think some civil liberties must be suspended in the war on AIDS,” 42% of respondents in the nationwide poll said yes, 38% said no, and 19% were not sure.

Also, 68% said they would favor criminal sanctions against people with AIDS who remain sexually active, and 84% approved making it a crime for people in AIDS high-risk groups to donate blood. Both findings represent significant increases since the same questions were asked by The Times Poll in December, 1985, when the affirmative figures were 51% and 77%, respectively.

The national survey of 2,095 people, conducted July 24 to 28, was designed to assess public perceptions of how to control the AIDS epidemic and to see if these had changed since the 1985 poll.


The new survey showed that about half of Americans would tolerate mandatory testing for people with a high risk of acquiring AIDS and adding AIDS to the list of infectious diseases that require quarantine.

In addition, the percentage of respondents who favor a tattoo for people who test positive for the AIDS virus, a proposal once ad vanced by conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr., has nearly doubled--from 15% to 29%--since the last poll.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents agreed that AIDS is mainly a question of community health, not civil rights.

“There has been a hardening of public attitudes on AIDS,” said I. A. Lewis, the director of The Times Poll. “It is almost as if many Americans think of civil liberties as a luxury when it comes to protecting the public health.”


Such steps as widespread mandatory AIDS testing, quarantine and tattoos for AIDS virus carriers would go far beyond the voluntary measures favored by leading public health officials throughout the world as the best means to control the inevitably fatal disease.

These officials, such as U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and Dr. Jonathan Mann of the World Health Organization, have stressed that individuals must take a major responsibility for protecting themselves against the sexually transmitted and blood-borne AIDS virus. They have also argued that AIDS virus carriers and AIDS patients should not be excluded from society or discriminated against.

However, most Americans agreed with the majority of AIDS experts that widespread, mandatory testing of people for the AIDS virus is a less effective measure against the disease than increased public education and research.

Steps to Fight Epidemic


When asked to choose among education, testing and research as the single most worthwhile step “that should be taken at the present time to fight the AIDS epidemic,” 46% of the respondents favored more education, 42% more research, and only 6% more testing.

When asked to choose the “least productive” step, 54% said more testing, 24% more education and 12% more research.

Respondents were sharply divided over whether such testing should be mandatory; 49% supported mandatory testing and 47% voluntary testing.

While they may not classify widespread testing as a particularly effective deterrent to AIDS, however, Americans are nonetheless tolerant to the notion of more testing.


When asked “which if any of the following groups of people do you think it would be most useful to test for the presence of the the AIDS virus?” 29% of those interviewed said “all citizens,” 16% “drug abusers,” 16% “known homosexuals,” and 14% prostitutes.

Such testing does not detect the AIDS virus particles themselves. Rather, the blood tests identify proteins called AIDS antibodies, which are produced by the body’s immune system in response to infection with the virus. While those who test positive are considered infected with the virus and capable of transmitting it to others, they may or may not actually develop AIDS.

About 70% of the respondents said that public health officials should be allowed to use AIDS antibodies blood tests to trace the sexual partners of AIDS virus carriers and that information about AIDS virus carriers should be shared with their past and present sexual partners. About 70% said health care professionals should be informed about people who had tested positive for AIDS antibodies with whom they might come in contact.

‘How Low on the Scale’


Poll director Lewis interpreted these results as showing “how low on the scale the civil rights consideration really is.” Lewis added: “The American people seem to be saying they don’t think greatly expanded testing will do much good, but go ahead if you want to.”

In a related finding, there was a sharp upsurge in support for increased federal spending on AIDS education and research, contrasted to the 1985 Times Poll. Lewis said this upsurge also reflects a more general trend in the last year toward increased public acceptance of spending on government services.

At the time of the earlier poll, when federal AIDS spending totaled about $125 million a year, 47% of respondents agreed that this was the “right amount of money” while 32% favored more spending and 13% less. But this month, when federal spending on AIDS totals about $500 million a year, the percentages reversed, with 46% favoring more money, 40% the same and 7% less spending.

Support for suspending civil liberties as part of the war on AIDS was strongest among extreme conservatives, Latinos and people 65 and older. It was most likely to be opposed by college graduates, liberals and those aged 18 to 23.


The Draconian step of tattooing AIDS virus carriers conjures up images for many Americans of Nazi Germany’s tattooing of concentration camp prisoners.

29% Favor Tattoo

Of those interviewed, 29% said they would favor a tattoo for AIDS virus carriers and 64% said they would oppose it.

Support for a tattoo for AIDS virus carriers was strongest among respondents who were black and those who said they had had multiple sexual partners in the last year. Among blacks, 46% favored a tattoo while 47% opposed it. Among those with multiple recent sexual partners, 37% favored a tattoo while 58% opposed it.


In addition, 96% of respondents said they would “want to know” if they were infected with the AIDS virus and 90% said that if they had been exposed to the AIDS virus, they would have “a duty to find out” if they had become an AIDS virus carrier.

In another finding, Americans continue to feel that the Democrats are more likely to have effective proposals to fight AIDS than the Republicans, although there is increased uncertainty about this compared to the earlier poll. Some predict AIDS will emerge as the leading domestic political issue of the 1988 presidential election.

Of those interviewed, the percentage saying the Democrats are more likely to have effective AIDS proposals decreased from 33% to 30%, and the percentage citing the Republicans declined from 25% to 19%. The percentage of respondents who were uncertain increased from 23% to 31%. The percentage who said both parties were equally likely to have effective proposals increased one point to 18%.

As of Monday, 39,263 AIDS cases and 22,548 AIDS deaths had been reported nationally, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. At the time of the earlier survey, there had been 15,581 AIDS cases nationally and 8,002 AIDS deaths.


The vast majority of AIDS cases have developed in homosexual and bisexual men and in intravenous drug users; about 4% have occurred after heterosexual exposure to the virus that causes the deadly disease.

The acquired immune deficiency syndrome is caused by a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, leaving an infected individual vulnerable to a variety of infectious diseases and tumors. The virus is transmitted by sexual contact, through exposure to contaminated blood and from an infected mother to her newborn.

The sampling error of the Times Poll was plus or minus 3%. This means that the results could vary by three percentage points in either direction if every adult in the country had been interviewed in the same way.

VIEW ON AIDS These are results of a Los Angeles Times Poll of 2,095 residents nationwide between July 24 and July 28. “Should we place most emphasis on educating the public about how to avoid the AIDS virus, or should we place our greatest effort into testing potential AIDS patients, or should we be spending more time and money to find a cure?”


Education 46% Research 42% Testing 6% Other steps 2% Not sure 4%

“If you suspected that you had been exposed to AIDS, would you feel that you had a duty to find out if you test positive to the AIDS virus?”

Duty to find out 90% Right to refuse 9% Not sure 1%

“If you were infected by the AIDS virus, would you want to know about it?”


Yes 96% No 3% Not sure 1%

“Do you think people with a high risk of acquiring AIDS should be made to take the AIDS antibodies test?”

Made to take test 49% Voluntary testing only 47% Not sure 4%

“Which if any of the following groups of people do you think it would be most useful to test for the presence of the AIDS virus?”


All citizens 29% Drug abusers 16% Known homosexuals 16% Prostitutes 14% Food service employees 4% Applicants for insurance 4% All employees 1% None 6% Not sure 8%

“Do you think public agencies should be allowed to use test results to trace the sexual partners of people who have tested positive for AIDS antibodies?”

Yes 70% No 24% Not sure 6%

“If you had reason to know that someone had tested positive to the presence of AIDS antibodies, do you think you would have a duty to inform past or present sexual partner’s about the person’s condition?”


A duty to inform 69% Keep confidential 24% Not sure 7%