Ebola: Less worry, but public wants strict controls

October 23, 2014, 11:20 AM GMT+0

Americans are less worried this week about contracting Ebola, but a large majority still support strict controls on potential Ebola victims

Americans are a little less worried than they were last week about their own risk of being infected with the Ebola virus, but the latest Economist/YouGov Poll continues to find most of them fearful of even secondary contact with someone who might have been exposed.

Just 13% of Americans this week say they are very worried about becoming infected by the Ebola virus, down from 20% last week. But nearly half continue to express at least some concern.

Concern about a potential epidemic within the United States has also dropped – but just a bit. 22% this week say they are very worried that will happen, down from 30% a week ago. The total percentage saying they are at least somewhat worried about an epidemic, although still a majority, has dropped ten points in the last week.

There is far more worry among Republicans than there is among Democrats. Although half of Democrats are at least somewhat worried about the possibility of an epidemic here, more, 77%, of Republicans are.

This week’s poll was mostly conducted just before the first people were released from their 21-day quarantine caused by their contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to become ill with the disease within the United States. Two nurses who treated him have also become infected. Despite the lack of any additional cases until now, Americans are unwilling to take any chances when it comes to contact with anyone potentially exposed or even someone in the general vicinity of possible exposure.

There has been almost no change since last week in the percentage who fear sitting next to someone who has been in West Africa. And there is even more opposition today to allowing people who have been in West Africa to enter the United States than there was a week ago.

In fact, more than half the public would ban all direct flights from anywhere in Africa.

61% of Democrats say they are afraid of sitting next to someone from West Africa (down from 68% last week), as are 81% of Republicans.

The air travel of Amber Vinson, one of the two nurses who contracted Ebola through their treatment of Duncan, has also stirred fears of flying. And the fears extend to any travel on a later trip on the same plane, and to contact with anyone who may have been on a trip where Ebola may have been present. More than three in four say they are afraid to travel on a plane with someone who may have the virus; majorities are fearful of being on a later flight on the same plane and of being in contact with someone who has been on a plane with someone who had the virus.

So the quarantine of those who flew on the same plane as Vinson clearly would meet with approval from the public. Americans would even quarantine any medical professionals involved in Ebola treatment. 67% are afraid of sitting next to a medical professional who had treated someone with the virus; 71% would quarantine those medical personnel.

One thing that has changed is the public’s view of media coverage. Last week, just one in four said the media was making Ebola seem worse than it is. This week that percentage has jumped 15 points, to 39%. And it is Democrats and independents who are most concerned. 46% of Democrats and 42% of independents think the media is making things seem worse than they are; just 26% of Republicans agree.

About a third say most Americans are overreacting – and just as Democrats and independents are more likely to think the media is making things worse, Democrats and independents also are more likely to think the public is doing the same thing. Nearly half of Democrats and more than a third of independents think most Americans are overreacting; just 19% of Republicans agree. Republicans express greater concern than Democrats do on most of the questions that measure concern about Ebola.

Most Americans want the government to do more. 54%, about the same percentage as last week, say the government isn’t doing enough when it comes to dealing with Ebola. 43%, including more than a third of Republicans, want the government to increase spending on Ebola research. Hardly anyone would decrease spending.

The President continues to receive negative evaluations for his handling of the Ebola situation. 35% approve, while 44% disapprove – not much different than his ratings on this in last week’s poll.

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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