Ebola Worries Ease a Bit Despite Preparedness Concerns

(Eric Gay / AP Photo)

Ebola worries have eased slightly in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, despite a broad sense among Americans that their local hospitals are unprepared to deal with the virus - and continued preference for a more robust response by the federal government.

After the difficulties at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where two nurses were infected, just 29 percent in this national survey think the staff at their local hospitals is adequately trained to deal with Ebola cases. Six in 10 think not.

See PDF with full results, charts and tables here.

The fact that both nurses recovered - and just one further case has been identified - may have done at least a little to calm fears of a broad outbreak. In interviews Thursday through Sunday, 36 percent of Americans expressed worry that they or an immediate family member might catch the Ebola virus, down by 7 percentage points from two weeks before. And while 60 percent are concerned about an epidemic occurring in the United States, that's eased from 65 percent.

Further, the new poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, shows an 8-point increase in Barack Obama's approval rating for handling the issue, to 49 percent, now exceeding the 41 percent who disapprove. There's a closer division on the response by the federal Centers for Disease Control, 47-45 percent; it's said it could have moved more forcefully in providing oversight in Dallas.

Another result shows steady majority confidence - 63 percent - in the ability of the federal government to respond effectively to an outbreak. That said, 61 percent also say the government should do more to try to prevent further cases in the United States.

The public by 46-37 percent also says the United States is not doing enough to try to stop the spread of Ebola in Africa; on this question 17 percent have no opinion.

Interviews for this survey were conducted before debate erupted over moves by some state governments to impose greater restrictions than the CDC's on people who've been to West African countries affected by Ebola. Regardless, 70 percent support restricting entry to the United States by such people - similar to the level two weeks ago - indicating general support for aggressive efforts to prevent spread of the disease.

AWARENESS and WORRY - This survey also finds a high level of awareness about the disease: Eighty-one percent feel that they understand how the Ebola virus is transmitted among humans - an important result, because feeling informed relates to concern.

Specifically, worries about catching the virus, and about a U.S. epidemic, are substantially lower among those who say they understand how it's transmitted. These concerns are lowest among the 37 percent who feel they know "very well" how transmission occurs, underscoring the role of education in quelling public fears.

Education factors into feeling informed - among college graduates, 91 percent say they're well informed about how Ebola is transmitted, including 51 percent "very" well informed. Those numbers decline to 76 and 30 percent, respectively, among those who lack a degree.

GROUPS and CHANGES - Concerns about Ebola are concentrated in some groups. Worry about catching the disease remains particularly high among less-educated adults - nearly twice as high among those without a college degree (42 percent worried) compared with college graduates (24 percent). Concerns about a U.S. epidemic, similarly, are 23 points higher among the less-educated group, 68 vs. 45 percent.

That said, some of the greatest changes from two weeks ago are among more-concerned groups. Worry about catching Ebola is down by 8 points among non-graduates compared with earlier this month, and concern about an epidemic is down by 6 points in this group.

Among other groups, worry about an epidemic has subsided among Republicans and conservatives, by 11 and 8 points, respectively. Nonetheless, both remain much more apt than others to say the government should do more to try to stop the spread of the disease in the United States - putting these groups in the somewhat unusual position of favoring more, not less, government action.

Women are 10 points more likely than men to express worry that they or a family member might catch the disease, and 9 points more apt to say they're concerned about an epidemic. There's also a sharp racial division, with worries about catching Ebola 22 points higher among nonwhites than whites.

METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 23-26, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,204 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3 points, including the survey's 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.