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CNN Today

The Gallup Poll: Half of Americans Believe War on Drugs is Making Progress

Aired January 4, 2001 - 4:11 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: So how do those of us across the nation feel about the progress of the war on drugs; about the forever- controversial question about whether to legalize marijuana? The Gallup Poll people have studied this topic for a quarter century and they share insights with us.

We're joined from Princeton, New Jersey by the Gallup Poll editor in chief Frank Newport.

Hello, Frank.

FRANK NEWPORT, GALLUP POLL EDITOR IN CHIEF: Hello, Joie. I would summarize by saying we see some modified optimism from the American public.

Let's show you a very basic question now, which relates to what we just saw from General McCaffrey: progress, standing still, or losing ground on the war on drugs? Here it is: Just a few months ago you can see about half of Americans say that we have made progress. Very good news: only 29 percent said we're losing ground; kind of in line with those statistics that he was putting forth there.

We have trended this, as you mentioned, for about a quarter of a century. Go all the way back to the '70s and it was more pessimistic; just about 1/3 of Americans said that we had made progress. That number has gone up and now, in our most recent asking, it's up to about 1/2 of Americans; pretty good news.

An interesting phenomenon here -- we asked people about the drug problem and how it effects them locally and then how they see it nationally. Now look here: 83 percent of Americans say, oh, yes, there is a serious drug problem nationally; but, as often happens in polling, when we focus in on their own local community, you see only 1/3 of Americans say it's a serious problem there.

This, however, says, since Americans perceive it as a problem elsewhere in the country, they're probably willing to support more dollars being spent in trying to eradicate drugs in the future, even though they don't see it as much locally.

You know, we have, in our polling, 1/3 or more of Americans who say drinking has been a problem in their family; but just about 22 percent say that drugs have ever been a problem in their family. A little more likely to be a problem in $20,000 to $30,000-range income families. If you get richer you're less likely to at lest say that drugs have been a problem in your family. But one out of five Americans report drugs have been a problem for them or their immediate family.

That legalization of marijuana question, well, it's age related. This isn't a great shock -- it wouldn't have been a shock in the '70s to see this, but it's still the case today when we ask it: Should marijuana be legalized? Well, young people, 18 to 29, 1/2 of them say, oh, yes, you should legalize it. Those of us who are getting a little older, much less likely to support legalization; 65 and older, it's only 12 percent -- Joie.

CHEN: Frank, what does the public say about fighting the drug war? Do they see that as being a key priority, as General McCaffrey tried to encourage the Bush administration to view it as?

NEWPORT: It is not top-of-mind. It's one of those problems where, if you remind people of it, they say, oh, yes, it's an important problem.

Earlier, when we were testing most important problems, there were times when the drug war came up as our first or top priority -- or one of the top priorities. But now when we ask people about priorities, it's very, very low top-of-mind.

Now, what the data would suggest is that the Bush administration, if they want to generate support for it, are going to have to get out there; kind of like we heard with "just say no," and try to rev up the attention that Americans are giving to the problem -- Joie.

CHEN: Frank Newport at the Gallup Poll, thanks for being with us again Frank.

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