What are the most pernicious dangers to public health? Americans seem divided on the topic, according to a recent study. The latest Axios-Ipsos American Health Index revealed how partisan politics play into Americans’ perceptions of the issue, and it is quite revealing. Axios’ survey found that Americans view both gun violence and opioids as the most pressing threats to the health of the nation. But far from setting the stage for unity, the nation’s political divide became even more apparent.
What Do Americans Think of Public Health?
Researchers found that 37% of Republican respondents chose opioids/fentanyl as the “current greatest threat” to public health. Only 17% of Democrats concurred. Conversely, about 35% of Democrats said “gun or firearm access” was the biggest threat, compared to a paltry 4% of Republicans. It is also worth noting that both Democrats and Republicans chose obesity as their second-most critical public health concern. “The survey also found that Americans overwhelmingly want private health insurance companies to cover weight-loss drugs and that they support capping out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 per month,” according to Axios.
Cliff Young, president of Ipsos US Public Affairs, said the results are indicative of the partisan divide in the United States. “Like everything else, public health is a tale of two Americas — one red, one blue,” he explained. “Governments must be nimble to talk about multiple public health issues at once.”
What is also noteworthy about this particular study is how education levels affected perceptions of public health. “Opioids were the top health concern of 32% of people with a high school diploma or less, compared to 25% of people with some college and 20% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher,” according to the report.
Notably – according to the survey – one factor that both parties agree on is gun restrictions. Most Democrats and Republicans indicated they favored tighter restrictions on firearms – including among gun owners. About 87% of Americans support background checks for all gun sales, including 97% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans. When it comes to red flag laws, 78% of respondents were supportive, including 95% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans.
But when it comes to the actual threats to public health, which side is more accurate?
What the Data Shows
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in 2021, representing a 15% increase from 2020. Opioids accounted for about 80,816 of these fatalities. CDC data suggests that almost 49,000 people died from gun violence in 2021. “This figure shatters the previous record—set just last year—by more than 3,500 deaths,” according to the agency.
That’s a significantly higher number of Americans dead from opioid overdoses in 2021. Considering the impact of the ongoing migrant crisis, these numbers could climb even higher as Chinese-manufactured fentanyl continues pouring over the southern border. Since this deadly opioid is typically mixed into more common street drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and even marijuana, many of those who overdose and die aren’t even aware of having ingested it.
This is not to say that gun violence is not a pressing issue, however. Indeed, homicides and other violent crimes have climbed at a disturbing rate over the past three years. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle claim to be working to address these problems. Republicans have been focused on curbing the rate of deaths due to fentanyl. Democrats have requested a classified briefing on mass shootings. It appears that Young was right in his assessment that Congress would seek to deal with both problems – and yet, as the partisan divide in Congress on the “root causes” of each issue continues to widen, the possibility of a solution seems farther away than ever before.
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