— -- Americans overwhelmingly support plans to spend nearly $2 billion to prevent the spread of the Zika virus, but don't feel the issue is urgent. One in three is worried about contracting the virus, one in four is taking steps to avoid exposure –- and most are confident that the federal government can respond effectively to an outbreak.
Seventy-three percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll favor the spending level proposed by the Obama administration, but many fewer, 46 percent, say Congress should approve it immediately; an additional 24 percent think approval should be contingent on budget offsets to be agreed by the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress. Two in 10 surveyed in the poll, produced by Langer Research Associates, oppose the spending.
A third of Americans are worried that they or someone in their immediate family will contract Zika, which is spread primarily by mosquitoes and can cause serious illness and birth defects. This concern has some influence on funding preferences: Among those who were more worried, 51 percent want immediate funding approval vs. 40 percent among those who were not worried at all.
The level of concern about being infected with Zika is somewhat lower than it was for other epidemics tested in previous ABC/Post polls. Worries about Ebola, the H1N1 swine flu, bird flu and the SARS virus peaked at 43, 52, 41 and 38 percent, respectively.
Concern might increase if more Americans become infected, as occurred with swine flu. At the same time, those experiences –- in which feared epidemics did not occur -– may contribute both to diminished worry and to confidence in the government’s response.
As things stand, about one in four adults –- 27 percent -– report taking steps to try to limit their exposure to Zika (rising to 37 percent of those who are personally concerned about infection). Among those taking action, using bug spray is the top volunteered response to what they’re doing, mentioned by half. Just fewer than a quarter say they’re staying indoors or draining standing water, and slightly more than one in 10 are trying to avoid areas with mosquitoes or are making sure that clothing covers their skin.
As percentages of the full population, these are small numbers –- from a high of 13 percent using bug spray to the single digits for all other mentions.
The public’s wait-and-see approach is consistent with confidence in the federal government’s capacity to prevent an outbreak; similar to past infectious disease threats, two-thirds are at least somewhat confident of an effective response, though only two in 10 are highly confident. Just one in 10 are not at all confident in the federal’s government’s ability to contain the disease. Sensibly, those who are not confident in the government are substantially more likely to be taking their own steps to avoid infection.
This relatively high confidence also relates to support for the administration’s spending plan –- 12 points higher among those who are confident in the government. This group also is 8 points more likely to support immediate approval of the funding request.
Confidence in the government’s response varies predictably along political lines, but consistently reaches majorities across key demographic groups. It peaks at more than seven in 10 among those 18-29, college graduates, those in higher-income households, urban residents and Democrats. It’s somewhat lower among others, strong conservatives and rural residents in particular (52 and 56 percent confident, respectively).
Consonant with the possible path of the disease, concern peaks at four in 10 among Gulf Coast state residents, compared with 36 percent of those in Atlantic coast states from South Carolina to New York and 29 percent of those living elsewhere. Gulf Coast residents also are more likely than others to say they’ve taken action to prevent the spread of the disease, though there’s little difference in support for the administration’s plan.
Though women are no more personally worried about Zika than men, they are more likely to have taken precautions, 31 to 23 percent. The lower rate of action by men is driven by men age 18-35, who are also substantially less worried than older men and all women about the disease. Only 14 percent in this group have done anything to prevent contracting Zika, about half the rate of others; they’re also 15 points less likely than their female counterparts to be worried about it personally.
In other groups, compared with whites, nonwhites are substantially more worried about Zika (+17 points) and to say they’ve taken preventative action (+12), as well as slightly more apt to support immediate funding approval (+8). Democrats are also more worried (+10) and more supportive of immediate Zika funding (+23) than are Republicans. Finally, those without a college degree are 16 points more likely to say they’re concerned personally about the disease – but also 10 points less likely than those with a college degree to support swift funding approval.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone June 20-23, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y. See details on the survey’s methodology here.