Even though Barry Bonds has broken one of baseball's most hallowed records, more than half the sport's fans hoped he would whiff – a dramatic difference from Hank Aaron's broad support as he approached the same milestone 33 years ago.
Our May ABC News/ESPN poll found that 52 percent of fans were rooting against Bonds as he approached Aaron's record of 755 career home runs; many fewer, 37 percent, were cheering Bonds on. And while allegations of steroid use play a heavy role in these views, so does race, with black fans far more supportive of Bonds and his quest.
Overall, despite his denials, three-quarters of fans think Bonds knowingly used steroids. Those fans overwhelmingly think that makes him a cheater, discounting arguments that Major League Baseball wasn't testing for steroid use at the time; and two-thirds of them didn't want to see him break Aaron's record.
Nonetheless most fans did say that when Bonds took the home run crown he should be recognized as having done so. And most, 58 percent, back him for election to the Hall of Fame, 10 points more than in an ABC News/ESPN poll last summer.
Attitudes on Bonds are far different than they were on Aaron a generation ago. In a Harris poll in March 1974, 77 percent of sports fans said they were rooting for Aaron to break Babe Ruth's 39-year-old record. Aaron did so on April 8, 1974.
RACE – As noted, there's a wide gap between African-American and white baseball fans in these views. Blacks are much less apt to believe that Bonds knowingly used steroids – 37 percent think he did, vs. 76 percent of whites. And blacks were far more likely to be rooting for Bonds to break Aaron's record, whether they think he used steroids or not.
Blacks also are twice as likely as whites to think Bonds has been treated unfairly (46 percent to 25 percent). While about a quarter of these blacks think that has to do with Bonds' race, many more (41 percent) instead blame the steroids issue. An additional 21 percent blame Bonds' personality.
Whites who think Bonds has been treated unfairly are more likely to say it's because of steroids (66 percent); almost none see it as mainly a racial issue.
CAREER ACHIEVEMENTS – There are divisions on whether or not Bond's lifetime feats should be officially recognized. Overall, 57 percent of fans think Bonds should be recognized as the new career home-run leader; as noted, about as many support his election to the Hall of Fame.
Among blacks, 85 percent think Bonds should be elected to Cooperstown and 78 percent favor recognizing him as the home run leader; among whites, much smaller majorities – 53 percent in each case – agree.
The division is similar on the basis of suspected steroid use: Among people who don't think Bonds used the drug, nearly nine in 10 support him for these honors. Among those who think he did take steroids, this drops to just over half.
Analysis of these factors in a regression equation finds that both – fans' race, and their opinion on Bonds' alleged steroid use – independently predict other attitudes on Bonds, including whether he should break Aaron's record and whether he should receive official recognition for his accomplishments. Of the two, though, suspicion of steroid use is the stronger predictor.