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Health Polling Through the Decades

Polling as a discipline has its roots as much in media as in academic research and therefore has always utilized its capacity for rapid turnaround of research to respond to current events. The deep involvement of media organizations in the funding and design of many major surveys and the short time from fieldwork to release – unlike the common academic practice of releasing research results with the publication of a journal article – means many polls follow the news and resulting public discourse.


Though the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic’s repercussions across the country and the world magnified this tendency, a review of polling through the decades reveals a common pattern. When issues emerge, polls will focus on those topics. As issues fade from the headlines, polling on these topics will decrease in frequency, though as long as an issue continues to impact people’s lives, some questions will continue to be asked.

Some topics that emerged as major topics in polling in specific decades are listed below:

2020s: COVID-19
2010s: Zika/Ebola, ACA Reform, Opioid Abuse
2000s: Affordable Care Act, Prescription Drugs, H1N1/Avian flu, SARS, Obesity, LGTBQ Issues
1990s: Patients’ Bill of Rights, Drug Treatment, Clinton Health Reform, Guns
1980s: AIDS, Chemical Exposure, Drug Addiction
1970s: Breast Cancer, Air and Water Pollution, Smoking, Marijuana
1960s: Medicare, Epilepsy, Dieting, Birth Control, Integration and Discrimination
1950s: Heart Disease, Cancer
1940s: Polio, Insurance, Vitamin Pills, Public Education, Nutrition
1930s: Tuberculosis, Venereal Disease

Major media polls in the Health Poll Database include polls conducted by ABC News, Axios, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, LA Times, NBC News, New York Times, NPR, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, among others.

Major nonprofit and academic organizations contribute some of the most in-depth polling on their issues. Many of these organizations are represented in the iPoll database as part of our Health Polling Collection.