Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data

By Richard G. Niemi; John Mueller et al. | Go to book overview
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7
Tobacco, Alcohol, Drugs

Drinking and smoking are age-old concerns, so it is hardly surprising that questions about these topics have been asked since the 1930s. What is more surprising from the vantage point of 1989 is that only the most basic questions were asked: "Do you drink?" and "Do you smoke?" Only in the last few years have the polls inquired about alcohol abuse, driving while intoxicated, knowledge about the effects of alcohol and smoking, smoking in public places, and so on ( Gallup, 1987).

Trends since the 1930s show long periods of relative stability in behavior. The proportion of the population saying it used alcohol hovered around 60-65 percent until the early 1960s (Table 7.1).1 Since then it has been 65-70 percent. A reason for the rise in the proportion of those who drink is apparent in the separate distributions for males and females. In all surveys, fewer women than men have reported that they drink. The difference is declining, however, and the rise in drinking among women is enough to account for most of the overall increase since the 1960s.

It is more difficult to determine whether there has been a change in the number of people who think they drink too much (Table 7.2). GSS data since 1977 show no pattern. Gallup data go back only three years earlier, and while they show a lower percentage who overindulge, comparisons of surveys across organizations suggest that the difference may be artifactual.2 Gallup ( 1987, No. 258:8) reports an increase since

____________________
1
The high numbers for 1945 and 1946 may be overestimates. See our Introduction on the nature of early Gallup surveys. Gallup ( 1987, No. 258:9) reports a 67 percent figure for these two years.
2
In the several comparisons possible, Gallup consistently reports a smaller percentage who say they sometimes drink too

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