Global Population Growth May Be Campaign Issue

AMERICANS are worried that runaway global population growth could exacerbate hard economic times at home. And according to a poll released today, many may say so this November with their votes.

Most Americans are convinced that the way to reduce spiraling birthrates is to promote effective family-planning programs in developing countries, the polling results indicate.

One way to do that, a smaller majority believes, is by providing United States financial assistance. If the polling data are correct, 40 percent of Americans might well withdraw support from a candidate who disagrees.

"The polling data effectively make the case that Americans do support US aid when they understand that it's helping to solve concrete problems," says Sharon Camp, senior vice president of the Population Crisis Committee (PCC), which commissioned the poll.

The poll, the latest of several election-related surveys on population issues, indicates that by sizable majorities Americans believe that overpopulation abroad will lead to increased illegal immigration to the US, higher US spending on famine relief and other forms of aid, and, by creating large new pools of cheap labor abroad, a significant loss of US jobs.

Two-fifths of those surveyed said they would be less likely to back a candidate who opposed US support for international family-planning programs. Among those who said they were certain to vote, nearly 1 in 5 said they would be "much less likely" to vote for such a candidate, as opposed to "somewhat" or "slightly" less likely.

As recent studies have indicated, even the poorest nations can dramatically lower rates of fertility - that is, the number of children per family - if funding is available and if leaders make family planning a high priority.

Awareness of the population problem and its global economic and environmental implications is about the same this year as in past election years. But there has been a marked increase (from 40 to 55 percent) in the proportion of Americans who believe that the US should support the availability of abortion in developing countries, according to a PCC spokesman.

The poll indicates a majority opposed to current US policy of withholding funds from international agencies that support national family programs that provide information about abortion.

Since the mid-1980s the Reagan and Bush administrations have declined to fund the UN Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. All five Democratic candidates say they will resume funding to the two groups.

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