Fears among Americans about the Ebola virus appear to be waning despite intensive news coverage of the small number of cases in the United States and ongoing political rancor over how best to screen travelers returning from West Africa, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The poll finds tepid public support for the disease-prevention efforts put in place by U.S. officials, including mixed approval for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of those surveyed are at least somewhat confident in the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to an Ebola outbreak. Even so, more than 6 in 10 people say the federal government is not doing enough to prevent additional Ebola cases and suspect that local hospital workers lack adequate training to deal safely with the virus. Some 47 percent approve of the CDC’s handling of the situation, while 45 percent disapprove.
Despite political pressure to institute travel bans from Ebola-affected West African countries, President Obama has continued to resist that approach, agreeing with health experts who say it would actually undermine efforts to stem the outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Overall, Obama receives more positive than negative marks for handling the federal government’s response to Ebola. Forty-nine percent approve while 41 percent disapprove of his actions, a noticeable improvement from a Post-ABC poll two weeks ago. Obama owes his improved marks to higher ratings among fellow Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, while disapproval has crept up 11 points among Republicans over the same period.
Public polls have found differing levels of support for restricting travel from countries affected by Ebola outbreaks. In the Post-ABC poll, 7 in 10 respondents support restricting travel from countries affected by Ebola, while a quarter of people are opposed to such measures. But a separate CNN-ORC poll released earlier this week found that a similar majority of people prefer enhanced airport screening and quarantine protocols for potentially infected travelers rather than an outright travel ban.
While personal worries about an Ebola infection or a larger outbreak in the United States persist, they have eased in the past two weeks amid constant reminders from health officials about the unlikelihood of widespread transmission and the fact that the handful of U.S. cases have occurred only among people who have treated Ebola patients.
Still, 36 percent of respondents say they are at least “somewhat worried” that a family member will contract Ebola, down from 43 percent two weeks ago. Sixty percent say they are at least somewhat concerned about a broader Ebola outbreak in the United States, down from 65 percent earlier this month.
Some of these concerns appear rooted in understandable fears about Ebola’s high fatality rate in West Africa, as well as the alarming symptoms of the disease, which include high fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
Overall education and knowledge about the virus appear to significantly affect concern about Ebola, according to the Post-ABC poll. About 8 in 10 respondents say they understand well how the virus is transmitted — through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a symptomatic patient. Those who reported greater familiarity with the illness are far less concerned about a broader U.S. outbreak or their family members becoming infected. In addition, most respondents without college degrees report being concerned about the possibility of a domestic Ebola outbreak, while those with college degrees generally express less concern.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Thursday through Sunday among a random national sample of 1,204 adults, including interviews on conventional and cellular phones. The overall margin of sampling error is three percentage points.
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.