The poll comes as Armstrong is apparently considering admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs during his storied cycling career, and three prominent baseball players alleged to have used steroids await verdicts in Hall of Fame balloting. This year is the first year Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa have been eligible for admission to baseball’s highest honor.
Overall, 53 percent of Americans — and 61 percent of big sports fans — say steroids are a problem in baseball. That is a huge drop from 2006, when fully 79 percent said they were a problem in the sport. The number seeing a “widespread” issue has been sliced in half, from 50 to 26 percent.
When it comes to Armstrong, 45 percent say he should get credit for his career achievements, given what they know about the matter; 37 percent say he should not.
The thinly positive split on Armstrong may give him pause in a broad admission, but also reflects a deep division in public opinion about professional athletes’ use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs more generally. Barely more than half — 52 percent — say such use bothers them, and nearly as many, 47 percent, say it doesn’t.
Interestingly, younger adults are far less apt to say they are bothered by steroid use than are older Americans. There is also a wide racial gap: Most whites say they are bothered while most African Americans are not.
Few Americans say they regularly suspect professional athletes of doping when they perform at high levels or break records. But for baseball players who broke the sports rules, people tend to be unforgiving.
More than two-thirds of Americans say players who used performance-enhancing drugs should not be eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Among those bothered “a lot” by steroids, 88 percent say there should be no Hall option, and it’s a split 42-46 verdict among those who say they care the least. Race again plays a role here: 70 percent of whites say no Hall for such players; opposition drops to 50 among African Americans.
Cohen is director of polling for Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Craighill is a pollster for the group. Capital Insight’s Scott Clement also contributed to this report.