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The Times Poll : Tough New Government Action on AIDS Backed

December 19, 1985|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

Large numbers of Americans stand ready for strong new government action in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.

A Los Angeles Times Poll found that more than half of the adults in the nation support quarantining AIDS patients, nearly half would approve of ID cards for those who test positive for AIDS antibodies, more than a third would be willing to pay a one-penny national sales tax to finance greater research, and one in seven would favor such radical action as tattooing those with the disease.

The poll also found great public aversion to electing homosexuals, the largest AIDS risk group, to office. And there is a reluctance to support candidates who espouse homosexual causes.

But, underscoring how this deadly disease can muddy the political waters, the poll indicates that there is a decidedly mixed audience for politicians who might try to exploit the AIDS-homosexual link. And a majority of Americans, 51% to 40%, said they favored laws to protect homosexuals against employment discrimination, AIDS notwithstanding.

The survey of 2,308 people, which was directed by Times pollster I. A. Lewis, sought to measure support for a range of proposals, some serious and some extreme, that have been suggested in the public debate for controlling the spread of AIDS. Here is how Americans responded:

- 93% would support a law allowing health care workers to wear protective garments while treating AIDS patients.

- 77% would support a law making it a crime for homosexuals or others in groups with a high risk of having AIDS to donate blood.

- 51% would support a law making it a crime for an AIDS patient to have sex with another person.

- 51% would support quarantining AIDS patients.

- 48% would support identification cards for those who test positive for AIDS antibodies. Those who test positive for AIDS antibodies may or may not develop the disease but are considered infectious to others.

- 48% would support withholding federal funds for cities that allow gay bathhouses to remain open.

- 45% would support testing job applicants for AIDS antibodies.

- 42% would support a law closing gay bars.

- 39% would support a 1-cent on the dollar national sales tax to finance greater AIDS research.

- 15% would support tattooing those with AIDS.

Despite these results, the poll found that Americans, by a 55%-29% margin, say they would send their child to a classroom where another pupil had AIDS.

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, destroys the body's immune system, leaving the victim vulnerable to a variety of tumors and infectious diseases. As of Monday, 15,581 AIDS cases and 8,002 deaths had been reported in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. AIDS is transmitted through body fluids, primarily by sexual contact and the sharing of unsterilized hypodermic needles.

Approximately three-quarters of all AIDS cases in the United States involve homosexual or bisexual men. In this context, the poll sought views on the influence and vulnerability of gays in American politics.

Only 8% of the public believes that gays have too little political power. Another 39% said they believe the political power of gays is about right, and 34% said homosexuals have too much power. More than two-thirds of those polled-- 67%--said they believe that gays today have greater political muscle than they did five years ago.

But there is little sympathy for gay political candidates. Even a whisper of suspicion about homosexuality was enough to turn almost 60% of the voters against a candidate for the office of President. Respondents in the poll were given characteristics of make-believe candidates. When a rumor of homosexuality was included in the descriptions, support for a make-believe candidate dropped from 70% to 11%.

Asked in straightforward fashion, not even 1% of those polled said they would be more likely to support a congressional candidate because the candidate was gay or lesbian. Those less likely to support this candidate totaled 47%, with 49% saying it would make no difference.

Even in cosmopolitan Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, with large and visible homosexual populations, barely 1% of the respondents said they would be more inclined to support a candidate who was gay.

The poll also asked Americans how they feel about candidates who espouse pro-homosexual views. Those less likely to vote for such a candidate outnumbered those more likely by a margin of 58% to 2%. Again, a large number, 37%, said it would not matter.

Of the major urban centers, residents of San Francisco were the most receptive to pro-gay political candidates. But even so, those less likely outnumbered those more likely to vote for such an office seeker by a 37%-4% margin; 51% said it would make no difference.

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