Religion and Social Trends

Baseball Fans Have Little Patience for Steroid Abuse

Fans have little trust in Congress to help fix the problem

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As baseball's spring training winds down and doctors review the first round of drug tests for the new season, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds fans are very concerned about the impact of performance-enhancing drugs on the national pastime, and that one in four are willing to say the drugs are "ruining" the game. The poll, conducted March 18-20, also shows that fans believe an average of 4 in 10 Major League Baseball players have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs within the past five years.

The poll was conducted after a hearing by the House Government Reform Committee into the sport's steroid problem and testing program on March 17. During that hearing, baseball players and executives defended the sport's new testing program against an onslaught of criticism from members of Congress. Mark McGwire, who acknowledged using the steroid precursor androstenedione during his record-setting 70-homer season in 1998, refused to directly answer questions during the hearing about whether he used other performance-enhancing drugs during his career.

McGwire told the committee he wanted to focus on the positive and look to the future, and pledged to help efforts aimed at persuading young athletes to stay away from steroids. However, the Gallup survey found most fans believe McGwire would likely have tested positive for steroids had a testing program been in place during his career (McGwire retired after the 2001 season; baseball did not ban steroid use until 2002 and started a testing program in 2003). More than three out of four baseball fans (77%) now believe McGwire used steroids despite his repeated denials during his career. In addition, only 53% of American adults have a favorable opinion of McGwire now, compared with 87% in a December 1998 Gallup Poll following his record-setting season.

Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, two other players implicated in a controversial new book by admitted steroid user and former player Jose Canseco, both flatly denied any steroid use during their testimony before the committee. However, baseball fans are more likely to believe Palmeiro than Sosa, who remains the only player to hit 60 or more home runs in each of three seasons. Sixty-two percent of fans believe Sosa has used steroids, compared with 30 percent for Palmeiro. As with McGwire, the public's opinion of Sosa has also been damaged -- falling from 83% favorable in December 1998 to 55% in the new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

The one player not in the hearing room who might have been able to add to the discussion was Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants -- accused by many of being the poster boy for steroid abuse. Bonds testified in 2003 before a federal grand jury investigating the BALCO Laboratories steroid case, and according to records leaked to a San Francisco newspaper, denied that he knowingly used steroids allegedly supplied by his personal trainer, who is one of four people facing criminal charges in the case.

Bonds, who expects to miss a great deal of the upcoming season because of injuries, has hit 703 home runs during his career so far, and is on track to surpass Babe Ruth's total of 714 homers when he returns to the lineup. However, 75% of baseball fans believe at least some of those homers were hit with the aid of steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.

What Happens Next?

The hearing has already resulted in changes to the sport's drug testing plan. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has announced that fines alone will no longer be an option for disciplining players who test positive for steroid use. The possibility of fines was part of the plan agreed to by team owners and the players' union, sparking outrage from members of the House committee. As a result of a new agreement between the owners and the union, Selig says any player caught using steroids will face suspension.

Half of fans trust Major League baseball to handle the steroid issue on its own, according to the new poll, while 48% say they have little or no trust in the sport to police itself. The threat of congressional action to require a stronger drug testing policy inspires little confidence as well, with only 38% of fans placing their trust in Congress to handle the steroid issue.

Will Baseball Suffer Permanent Damage?

The new poll found that 39% of Americans consider themselves to be baseball fans, down from 43% last December. However, it must be noted that this figure is subject to seasonal variations, and routinely peaks after the end of a season, with a slight drop during the winter. As an example, 43% of Americans declared themselves to be baseball fans in November 2003 (after the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox nearly made the World Series), and support slipped to 36% at the start of the 2004 season, in a March 2004 Gallup Poll. The current level of 39% is in line with polls conducted since the end of the 1994-1995 baseball players' strike.

However, failure to address the steroid issue conclusively could have a long-term impact on the game's popularity. The new poll found 23% of fans who believe steroid use is ruining the game of baseball, and another 63% who say it is a serious problem. Just 8% say it is not serious, and 5% believe the game has actually improved because of steroid use.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 909 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 18-20, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 percentage points. For results based on the sample of 443 baseball fans, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

26. Are you a fan of professional baseball, or not?

 

Yes,
a fan

SOMEWHAT
OF A FAN
(vol.)

No,
not a fan

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2005 Mar 18-20

39

9

52

*

 

 

 

 

2005 Jan 14-16

41

7

52

*

2004 Dec 5-8

43

9

48

*

2004 Mar 26-28

36

9

55

*

2003 Nov 14-16

43

8

49

*

2003 Oct 24-26

44

11

45

--

2003 Oct 10-12

42

8

50

*

2003 Jun 27-29

36

10

54

*

2003 Jun 9-10

39

11

50

*

2002 Nov 8-10

38

13

49

*

2002 Aug 19-21

37

8

54

1

2002 Jul 26-28

37

10

53

*

2002 Jun 7-8

36

16

48

--

2002 Mar 22-24

44

10

46

*

2002 Jan 11-14

36

11

53

*

2001 Nov 26-27

38

10

52

*

2001 Nov 2-4

45

11

44

*

2001 Jun 8-10

35

14

51

--

2001 Mar 26-28

46

10

44

*

2000 May 5-7

35

11

54

--

2000 Apr 28-30

40

12

48

--

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

45

10

45

--

1999 Nov 18-21

45

16

39

--

1999 Oct 21-24

37

10

53

--

1999 Jul 13-14

40

19

41

--

1999 Mar 19-21

34

15

51

--

1998 Oct 9-12

47

14

39

--

1998 Sep 14-15

45

18

37

--

1998 Jun 22-23

34

10

56

--

1996 Mar 15-17

38

10

52

--

1995 Oct 5-7

34

8

58

--

1995 Jul 7-9

35

13

52

--

1995 May 11-14

35

10

55

--

1995 Apr 17-19

32

9

59

--

1995 Feb 24-26

37

12

51

--

1995 Jan 16-18

37

8

55

--

1994 Oct 17-19

39

9

52

--

1994 Sep 6-7

35

11

54

--

1994 Aug 15-16

39

10

51

--

1994 Aug 8-9

35

20

45

--

1993 May 21-23

39

10

51

--

1993 Feb 12-14

44

7

49

--

 

 

 

 

* Less than 0.5%

(vol.) = Volunteered response

27. Just your best guess, what percentage of Major League Baseball players do you think have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs during the past five seasons?

BASED ON 443 BASEBALL FANS   

 

2005
Mar 18-20

2004
Dec 5-8

%

%

Less than 10%

7

15

10% to 24%

25

23

25% to 49%

24

18

50% to 74%

24

18

75% or more

14

10

 

 

No opinion

6

16

 

 

Mean (including zero)

39.7

33.4

Median

35

25

28. Which comes closest to your view of steroid use among Major League Baseball players -- it is ruining the game, it is a serious problem, but it is not ruining the game, it is not a serious problem, or it has made the game better?

BASED ON 443 BASEBALL FANS

 

Ruining
the game

A serious
problem

Not a serious
problem

Made game
better

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Mar 18-20

23%

63

8

5

1

29. How much do you trust [RANDOM ORDER]to handle the issue of steroid use by major league players -- a great deal, a moderate amount, not much, or not at all?

BASED ON 443 BASEBALL FANS

A. Major League Baseball        

 

A great
deal

A moderate
amount

Not
much

Not
at all

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Mar 18-20

15%

35

30

18

2

B. Congress

 

A great
deal

A moderate
amount

Not
much

Not
at all

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Mar 18-20

10%

28

33

28

1

30. Just your best guess, do you think that each of the following baseball players has -- or has not -- used illegal steroids while playing Major League Baseball? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

BASED ON 443 BASEBALL FANS

2005 Mar 18-20
(sorted by "yes, has")

Yes, has

No, has not

No opinion

%

%

%

Mark McGwire

77

15

8

Barry Bonds

75

14

11

Sammy Sosa

62

31

7

Rafael Palmeiro

30

41

29

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/15379/Baseball-Fans-Little-Patience-Steroid-Abuse.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030