Alcohol and Marijuana: Latest Gallup Polls

Income and education are key factors

The Gallup people have just released their latest annual survey of drinking in America as well as a poll on marijuana trial and usage. Gallup has conducted the alcohol survey every year since 1939 and the marijuana poll has been running since 1969.

Some key findings:

  • Overall, 64% of Americans say they drink alcohol – unchanged over the years.
  • Upper income and highly educated Americans are most likely to say they drink alcohol.
  • Beer is the most widely preferred drink.
  • More than 4 in 10 say they have tried marijuana with 10% claiming to be current smokers as compared with 7% two years ago.

Alcohol and drinking over the years remains consistent

Gallup has been asking the same question over the years – Do you have occasion to use alcoholic beverages such as liquor, wine, or beer? The proportion saying yes has remained consistent – 58% in 1939, in the 60% area since then and 64% in 2015.

Alcohol drinking trends
Alcohol drinking trends

The form of alcohol Americans most often drink remains fairly consistent with the past. 42% report beer most often, 34% say wine and 21% favor liquor.

Type of alcohol drank most often
Type of alcohol drank most often

Socio-economic status and drinking correlate

This year’s analysis focused on education and income as it relates to who drinks. In a nutshell, upper income and higher educated Americans are more likely than others to drink. They postulate that upscale Americans have more opportunities for drinking occasions such as dining out and going on vacation. Sounds right to me. But I don’t think that’s it entirely.

What I found most interesting is that nearly half (47%) of those with incomes over $75,000 are more likely to have had a drink in the past 24 hours. Among college graduates it’s 45%. So there’s a fair amount of at home drinking.

They also asked about overindulging and there were no difference by income level. But, there were significant differences by education with college graduates less likely to report being “over served.” They offer two explanations. One is that “those with more formal education may be less willing to report a socially undesirable behavior in a public opinion survey.”

The other is “Data from various government and academic studies confirm the relationship between income and alcohol consumption. The studies also indicate upper-income drinkers mostly drink in moderation, but lower-income Americans tend to abstain completely, or to drink heavily.”

Type of alcohol

As mentioned, beer is the dominant type of alcohol consumed, but before you beer folks start high-fiving, consider the growth in craft beer and the decline in mainstream beer brands. In fact, those with higher incomes are equally as likely to drink beer and wine most often.

Marijuana trial and usage

Earlier in the month Gallup reported on a poll that delved into cannabis experimentation and current use.

As the chart below reveals, the percentage of Americans who say they have tried marijuana has steadily increased since the first measurement in 1969 – from 4% to 44% in the span of less than 50 years.

Have tried marijuana
Have tried marijuana

Legalization in some states plus the growing support for legalization is an obvious factor. In a study conducted in 2014, Gallup found that overall 51% of Americans favor legalization, Conservatives and Republicans are more likely to be opposed and those in states in the East and West are the biggest supporters.

Support legalization
Support legalization

Finally, the recent Gallup study on marijuana shows that 1 in 10 Americans said yes and this is up from 7% two years ago.

Currently smoke marijuana
Currently smoke marijuana

Is there any doubt that marijuana legalization will continue and that usage will as well?

The Northwest News Network (a collaboration of public radio stations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho) reported this week that Washington’s Liquor Control Board is getting a new name. It will become the Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Portends of things to come.

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Beer Business Blues

The media, both consumer and alcohol industry trade, has been chocked full of stories about the decline and potential demise of beer.

In addition to stories in Beer Business Daily, Buffalo Trace Newsletter and others, notable consumer publications have also had much to say on the subject over the past two weeks. Check out these headlines:

The Atlantic: Why Are American Drinkers Turning Against Beer?

USA Today: 6 sobering reasons why beer makers should worry.

Slate: The Stunning Collapse of Beer in America

Now it’s my turn. What’s the problem? Why is it happening?

What’s the problem?

It all started with the Gallup poll on what Americans drink and prefer. The annual survey revealed two startling facts. First, Americans who drink alcohol are equally likely to say they drink wine and beer most often (35/36% for each type). No big deal, right? But if you go back to 1992, it was 47% for beer and 27% for wine. So, since 1992, beer as a beverage of choice has significantly declined.

Gallup chart

The second problem, and the driver of the overall situation, is that young adults’ booze preferences have shifted away from beer toward wine and liquor.


Why is it happening?

I’ve read dozens of explanations in the press and perhaps as many as hundreds of ideas from readers of this blog. So far as I’m concerned, the reasons have to do with 1) too many choices in and out of beer and 2) changes in alcohol drinking demographics and attitudes.

Let’s start with number two and use liquor as an analogy. When I entered the spirits and wine business in the late 1980s, there were enormous earthquake-like shifts in drinking patterns. The whiskey preferences of the Mad Men era had given way to the surge in white spirits, led by entry level drinkers no longer interested in mimicking the behavior of the past. So, whiskey went away for a while and has only recently begun to return.

In short, changing demographics result in changing values and attitudes and now its beer’s turn. It’s a mistake to assume that the drinking preferences of the past will continue with a new generation.

But wait, there’s more. The real culprit in shifting preferences away from beer is that there are too many choices. From outside the category, the spirits and wine manufacturers have been concentrating on innovation for a decade or more, while the beer players are only now beginning to play catch up. Many products in wine and spirits have fun, lightness in taste and flavor going for them. To a large extent they have moved into the beer space.

Inside the beer category, it’s been the craft people who have shifted tastes and preferences while the big players have clung to the trends of the past. Get over it, big boys, it isn’t about light beer and imports anymore, it’s about crafted beer with unique taste and interesting pedigrees.

Speaking about choices, I can’t help but wonder whether the dizzying array of beer packaging isn’t also an important factor in turning off the consumer. How many choices in ounce sizes do I need? Is it necessary to have pack sizes that run from a 6 pack to 30? No wonder the prices keep going up.

Beer market declines have been going on for some time and are likely to continue. Bottom line – the mainstream beer manufactures need to wake up and smell the malt.

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Wine vs. Beer

The Gallup folks conduct an annual survey on drinking alcohol and have measured the top choices (wine, beer, liquor) since 1992.

Bottom-line: Nearly as many US drinkers name wine (35%) as beer (36%) as their most often choice in alcohol. Liquor is third at 23% and close to its highest level.

The choice of beer as America’s favorite drink has declined over the past two decades and it was accelerated this year with a five-point drop in mentions of beer, down from 41% to 36%. Among young adults, the preference for beer fell from 51% in 2010 to 39% this year.

I no sooner finished reading the Gallup poll when I noticed another ominous sign on the horizon for beer.

A number of media sources have reported a growth in wine on tap. In some of the restaurants and bars dispensing red, white and rosé, the taps have a sign saying “Warning: Wine Not Beer.” Uh – oh…is there a trend in the making?

Looks like Augie Busch got out just in time.

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