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Poll: About half of Americans confident in safety of tap water

| Saturday, March 5, 2016, 7:36 p.m.

Only about half of Americans are very confident in the safety of their tap water, and a majority think lead contamination of the tap water in Flint, Mich., indicates a more widespread problem rather than an isolated one.

Lower-income Americans and those from minority groups are especially likely to worry about their water being contaminated, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Other findings include:

Widespread or isolated?

Just under half of Americans say they are extremely or very confident in the safety of their own tap water, while a third are moderately confident, and 18 percent are not confident at all.

Whites (54 percent) are significantly more likely than blacks (40 percent) or Hispanics (28 percent) to be very confident in their tap water being safe. Six in 10 people living in households making more than $100,000 a year, but less than 4 in 10 of those making less than $50,000 a year, are very confident in the safety of their water.

More than half of Americans say that Flint's contamination is a sign of a more widespread problem, while about 4 in 10 say it's an isolated incident. But relatively few — 21 percent — say they're paying close attention to news about the situation in Flint; 38 percent say they're following somewhat closely, and 38 percent are not following closely.

Blacks are significantly more likely than whites to think it's a sign of a more widespread problem, and 32 percent of them are following the story very closely, compared with 20 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of whites.

Straight, filtered or bottled?

Only about a third of Americans say they usually drink straight tap water at home, while another third drink filtered tap water and the remaining third drink bottled water.

About four in 10 whites, but less than 2 in 10 African-Americans or Hispanics, say they drink straight tap water at home. Just over half of blacks and 4 in 10 Hispanics drink bottled water at home, compared to only a quarter of whites.

Just four in 10 whites, but 6 in 10 non-whites say concerns about contamination are a major factor in their decision to drink bottled or filtered water.

Six in 10 Americans in households making less than $50,000 a year — less than half of those making between $50,000 to $100,000, — and four in 10 of those making $100,000 cite concerns about contamination as reasons for not drinking tap water.

Trust in government?

Half of Americans say the federal government should do more to ensure safe drinking water, while 40 percent say its involvement is about right and 7 percent think it should be doing less.

Blacks (69 percent) and Hispanics (62 percent) are more likely than whites (44 percent) to want more federal government involvement.

Those in households making less than $50,000 are more likely than those making more than $100,000 to say the federal government should do more, 57 percent to 40 percent. Those living in urban areas (60 percent) are more likely than those in suburban (50 percent) or rural areas (44 percent) to want more federal government involvement.

Democrats (66 percent) are more likely than independents (50 percent) and Republicans (33 percent) to want the federal government to do more. Among Republicans, 51 percent say the current level of involvement is about right.

When it comes to local government making the right decisions to ensure safe tap water, those in households making more than $100,000 are more likely than those making less than $50,000 to trust it a lot to handle the issue, 38 percent to 18 percent. Whites are more likely than nonwhites to have a lot of trust in local government, 30 percent to 23 percent. Democrats and Republicans are about equally likely to trust their local government.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,033 adults was conducted online Feb. 11-15, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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