Poll: Americans Support Punishment for Steroid Use

ByAnalysis By Jon Cohen

March 16, 2005 -- -- On the eve of congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, Americans express broad concern about young people using such drugs to emulate the stars, and favor a punitive approach for "juiced" athletes. But when it comes to enforcement, most want the federal government to stay in the bleachers.

More than eight in 10 Americans in an ABC News/ESPN poll say they're concerned that the use of steroids by well-known athletes encourages young people to use these drugs; nearly half are "very concerned" about it. Congressional leaders cite the same worry as a motivating factor in tomorrow's star-studded hearings.

Baseball comes in for considerable blame: Six in 10 say Major League Baseball has not done enough to prevent the use of these drugs by its players. Nonetheless, perhaps reflecting a broader distaste for federal regulation, only 30 percent of Americans think the federal government should take charge of creating and enforcing rules on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Nearly two-thirds think MLB, despite its failings to date, should write the rulebook.

Is MLB doing enough to prevent steroid use?18% 61

MLB Federal Government

Who should enforce rules against steroid use?64% 30

The public has some austere suggestions for those rules. More than six in 10 say baseball players who are found to have broken the sport's rules by using performance-enhancing drugs should have their statistics stricken from the record books. Two-thirds also say such players should be ineligible for election to baseball's Hall of Fame.

On a related issue, fans broadly disagree with the decision not to call ballplayer Barry Bonds to testify before Congress tomorrow; more than seven in 10 say he should have been subpoenaed. Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., has said the committee didn't want a focus on Bonds to dominate the hearing. He also said that the committee had sought to avoid conflict with the BALCO grand jury investigation in San Francisco, in which Bonds, among others, has testified.

Bonds reportedly testified that he took substances known as "cream" and "clear," but that he did not know these were steroids. Most fans, however, dismiss his claim: About two-thirds in this survey believe Bonds knowingly took steroids.

People who are very concerned about young athletes' steroid use are more likely than others to say Bonds should have been called to testify. They're also more likely to say MLB is not doing enough to address the problem and to say players who used these drugs should be kept off the record books and out of the Hall of Fame.

A positive result for MLB is that the steroids inquiry does not appear to have affected baseball's fan base. Forty-six percent of Americans call themselves baseball fans and another 12 percent say they're "somewhat" fans, for a total of 58 percent who can be fairly called fans of the sport.

That's quite similar to what it's been in the past (55 percent in a 2003 poll, 61 percent in 1999). But it's not always been so: Baseball's labor disputes in 1994 and 2002 sharply cut the number of people calling themselves fans.

Men are substantially more likely than women to be baseball fans -- 65 percent versus 51 percent. The number of baseball fans drops among people age 55 and up, and peaks among people in higher-income households.

In one attitudinal difference, fans -- perhaps not surprisingly -- are 14 points more apt than non-fans to say enforcement of steroid rules should be left to MLB, not taken over by the federal government.

This ABC News/ESPN poll was conducted by telephone March 11-15, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,019 adults. The results have a three-point error margin for the full population, and four points for baseball fans. Field work was done by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

You can find more ABC News polls in our Poll Vault.

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