The Politics of the Flu, an Rx for the FDA and Judging Jury Duty

Posted January 7, 2005 at 1:37pm

When the United States lost about half of its supply of flu vaccines late last year due to production problems at a lab in the United Kingdom, observers wondered whether there would be any significant impact on politics. If there has been any, it’s been modest — but the vaccine shortage has changed behavior, according to recent public-opinion polls. [IMGCAP(1)]

When Harris Interactive and the Wall Street Journal Online asked in mid-December 2004 whether respondents had gotten a vaccination this flu season, about half as many people said they had compared with the past two years — 17 percent versus 35 percent.

When asked who was most at fault for the shortage, 37 percent said the manufacturer was, compared with 16 percent who blamed the Department of Health and Human Services, 10 percent who said the Food and Drug Administration and 6 percent who said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When asked about their willingness to use a flu vaccine made in Germany but not approved by the FDA, 36 percent said they would feel safe receiving it, 36 percent said they would not, and 27 percent weren’t sure.

FDA Fears. On another high-profile health issue, a mid-December 2004 Ipsos Public Affairs/AP poll showed 83 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat confident in the safety of prescription drugs sold in the United States.

In addition, 76 percent expressed confidence in the FDA to ensure the safety of drugs sold here. Of those who had taken a drug prescribed by their doctor in the past year (74 percent), 10 percent said they had used Vioxx, 11 percent Celebrex and 5 percent Bextra. All three drugs are widely used but are now suspected of having serious side effects.

A Trial By My Peers. In a Harris Interactive poll conducted for the American Bar Association, 84 percent of respondents said that jury duty was an important civic duty that should be fulfilled even if it is inconvenient. In a separate question, only 17 percent agreed that jury duty was a burden to be avoided.

The July 2004 poll found that 62 percent of respondents had been called for jury duty, while 38 percent had not. Of those who had been called to serve, 45 percent of those who were called said jury duty was what they expected it to be, while 22 percent said it was better and 10 percent said it was worse.

When asked if they would want a jury trial for themselves rather than a trial by a judge, 51 percent in the poll strongly agreed and 24 agreed somewhat.

Priorities for the President and Congress. When Gallup, CNN and USA Today asked people which of 18 issues were most important for the president and Congress to address, Iraq topped the list (51 percent described it as extremely important), followed by terrorism (49 percent), education (44 percent), health care costs (42 percent) and the economy and Social Security (40 percent each).

At the bottom of the list, less than a quarter described as extremely important the environment, limits on lawsuits, abortion, laws to help blacks and other minorities, and same sex marriages or civil unions.

Going to Hell in a Handbasket. In 1964, when the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked people about the state of morals in the country, 41 percent said they were pretty bad and getting worse.

When NBC News and The Wall Street Journal asked the question in December 2004, a virtually identical 43 percent gave the same response. In 1964, 16 percent put themselves at the other end of the spectrum, saying that morals were pretty good and getting better. In the new poll, 12 percent gave that response.

In both years, roughly 20 percent said that morals were pretty good but getting worse. In 1964, 14 percent said they were pretty bad and getting worse, compared with 20 percent who felt that way in 2004.

Consumer Confidence: Partisan Chasms. A poll by ABC News and Money magazine found an unusual degree of polarization on consumer confidence in 2004. The index — whose three components measure views of the national economy, people’s personal finances and the buying climate — stood at +33 among Republicans in late December and -37 among Democrats, for a 70-point gap. The average gap across the previous decade was 21 points.

Big Government, Big Threat. In December 2004, 57 percent told Gallup that big government posed the biggest threat to the future of the country, followed by big business (27 percent) and big labor (11 percent). Interestingly, there were no differences among Democrats, Republicans and independents about the threat posed by big government.

But in the NEP national Election Day exit poll, two-thirds of Bush supporters said government was doing too many things better left to individuals and businesses. Roughly the same proportion of Democrats thought government should do more to solve the country’s problems.

The Moore Effect. John Zogby made a notable observation about Michael Moore’s controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” in a post-election release. When Zogby International asked people in surveys whether they connected more with Moore’s film or Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” all but the youngest voters selected the latter.

Zogby said he was surprised by the “decidedly negative” reaction to “Fahrenheit 9/11”: “Many saw [“Fahrenheit 9/11”] as an attack on not just Bush, but on themselves and their values.”

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.