A recent Pew Research Center survey indicated that 86 percent of Americans believe the country is more politically divided than ever before. Polarized viewpoints surrounding topics like immigration and foreign trade are broadcasted daily on political pundit shows; however, issues like addiction are less frequently discussed.
What do Democrats, Republicans and Independents really believe about drug and alcohol addiction? Does political affiliation affect one’s perception about the criminalization of drugs? What about viewpoints on the correct measures to solve the opioid and heroin crisis? We surveyed more than 2,000 people, including 1,000 Democrats, 1,000 Republicans and 200 Independents to see just how deep political divisions run.
The Older, the Wiser?
Regardless of their political party, a majority of respondents agreed current drug laws should be less strict. Between 2009 and 2013, 40 states made changes to ease their drug laws, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of legislative data. And with more than 46 percent of all incarcerations in America resulting from drug-related crimes, our survey results reflect a shift in attitude toward evolving drug policies and the need for more progressive action, including recovery and harm-reduction policies.
This change in view is most prominent when comparing answers by age group. Results showed older survey respondents were often more in favor of stricter drug policies (including harsher penalties or mandatory jail time for drug users), while more than half of participants under the age of 35 were in favor of less strict drugs laws. At least 74 percent of Democrats and Independents under the age of 51 believed drug laws should be less strict.
Following the presidential election, a majority of survey participants who voted for Hillary Clinton felt drug laws should be less strict (76 percent). Clinton’s platform included multiple examples of more lenient drug laws, including treatment, criminal justice reform, and allowing first responders to carry naloxone, a drug that can prevent opioid overdoses from being fatal. A similar percentage of Independent voters also agreed drug laws should be less strict (72 percent). Trump voters were more split with their stance: 37 percent agreed that drug laws should be more rigid, and 45 percent said that laws should be less strict. In his campaign, Trump vowed to leave marijuana legalization up to the states. The Trump administration recently appointed Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sessions believes in tougher drug laws, including minimizing the use of marijuana rather than legalizing it.
How Drug Issues Stand Up in the Voting Booths
Regardless of political party, women were more likely to favor stricter drug policies than men. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the rate of substance abuse or dependence is greater for men (10.7 percent) than women (5.7 percent) which may explain why men are more inclined to support more lenient drug policies than women.
State of Crisis
The CDC found that the four states with the highest age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2015 were West Virginia (41.5 per 100,000 residents), New Hampshire (34.3), Kentucky (29.9), and Ohio (29.9).
Per 2016 presidential election results, 68.7 percent of West Virginia voters cast a ballot for Donald Trump. On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being a crisis), West Virginians ranked the drug problem in their state as a 4.7.
Respondents from Kentucky ranked their state as a 4.3, and citizens from Ohio ranked their state’s drug abuse problem as a 4.1. During the 2016 presidential election, all three states voted majority for Donald Trump. In comparison to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Trump’s campaign had little to no platform for drug policies and spending.
States where marijuana is decriminalized or legal in some form were more likely to report that drug addiction was less of a problem in their state. Colorado, where marijuana is legal, ranked drug issues as 3.47. Nebraska and Idaho followed with rankings of 3.45 and 3.42, respectively. Marijuana is decriminalized in the former.
Steps Toward Recovery
We asked participants to note their agreement with the following statement: “The U.S. should emphasize rehabilitation over incarceration for nonviolent drug crimes.” Eighty-three percent of individuals from all political parties agreed that the U.S. should emphasize rehabilitation over incarceration for nonviolent drug crimes. However, 11 percent of Republicans disagreed with this statement, compared with 4 percent of Independents and 3 percent of Democrats.
Half of Republican respondents felt that harm reduction programs such as needle exchange initiatives should be bolstered. In comparison, 81 percent of Democrats felt the same. According to a study by the Canadian Paediatric Society, areas that have introduced needle exchange programs have shown “mean annual decreases in HIV seroprevalence” compared with areas that haven’t installed such programs. Additionally, access to methadone maintenance programs has been “strongly related” to decreased mortality rates, both from natural causes and overdoses.
Twenty-five percent of all respondents believed harm reduction policies such as needle exchange programs promote addiction. Republicans were the most divided on this topic with 37 percent agreeing that harm reduction programs promote addiction and 36 percent disagreeing with this sentiment. Over 50 percent of Democrats and Independents felt these policies did not promote addiction.
Drug Stigmas Vary From Left to Right
Although an overwhelming majority of respondents said that people facing addiction could be rehabilitated, there is a distinction between how voters believe individuals should overcome their addictions.
More than half of Donald Trump voters agreed that conquering drug addiction was a matter of willpower, while less than half of Hillary Clinton voters agreed in the idea of willpower to overcome addiction. While Hillary voters were more likely to believe that overcoming addiction requires more than just self-discipline, it’s clear (from the 42 percent of respondents overall who agreed that overcoming addiction was a matter of self-discipline) that stigmas surrounding addiction continue to persist regardless of political party. Addiction is classified as a disease which makes willpower a very weak opponent in the battle against addiction.
Oddly, when we asked respondents whether they believe addiction is a disease, they agreed despite beliefs that addiction could be defeated with self determination. A majority of respondents across political parties (68 percent) said they believe drug addiction is a disease. Seventy-seven percent of Clinton supporters and 60 percent of Trump supporters agreed.
The stigmas surrounding addiction were also evident when we asked respondents whether they agreed that people with drug addictions were a threat to society. Sixty-four percent of Trump voters agreed drug addicts pose a threat to society, while one-third of Clinton supporters said the same (33 percent). While Clinton voters were more empathetic to those facing addiction, there is still work to be done across political parties to reinforce the fact that drug users can be helped with greater understanding and empathy for their struggle.
Drug Policies and Media Mentions
It seems news channels spend a majority of their airtime covering politics, and according to the Tyndall Report, it’s true. In 2016, over 1,000 minutes of news airtime in the U.S. was spent discussing the Trump campaign. Clinton received half the amount of media airtime, with 506 minutes. Drug use and other drug-related issues did not appear on the list of the top 20 stories of 2016.
Survey results show a majority of respondents agreed media should cover more drug-related issues. Forty-three percent of Republicans felt there needed to be more coverage and 50 percent of Democrats agreed media outlets should spend more time covering drug-related issues. Both parties also agreed that presidential candidates should have dedicated more time to discussing the drug crisis during their campaigns. Roughly 54 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats said the candidates should have discussed drug-related issues and policies more often prior to the election.
What Do We Do Now?
Regardless of political affiliation, it’s important that Americans come together to agree on solutions to the drug crisis in America. Action is needed, and without a consensus of opinion, those facing addiction will continue to suffer without support.
If you or someone you know is facing addiction, you don’t need to navigate the journey alone. Visit us at DrugAbuse.com or call to find information about overcoming addiction and to find treatment centers near you.
We surveyed 1,000 Democrats, 1,000 Republicans, and 200 Independents on issues related to drug abuse and U.S. drug policy. Of respondents, 56 percent identified as men, 43 percent as women, and 0.2 percent as a gender not listed. Sixty-one percent of respondents were between the ages of 18 to 34, 27 percent were between the ages of 35 and 50, and 12 percent were aged 51 years or older.