Yet again, the annual Gallup Poll shows that the percentage of Americans who say they have ”occasion to drink” remains remarkably consistent, around 2/3 of adults, despite broader availability, increased affordability (especially wine and spirits), tons of marketing investment and a bewildering array of new products aimed at least in part at attracting new drinkers. The table below shows just how consistent key drinking trends have been over the last three decades.
In 2017, 62% of adults told Gallup they had occasion to drink, down 2 points from 2007 and up a point from 1997, all within the poll’s 4-point margin of error. Indeed, if you take an average of 64% over these 30 years, no single year is outside that 4-point margin. And while per capita alcohol consumption inched up slightly over this 30-year this period, about 2 drinks or so per drinker per month, we calculate, the Gallup figures also suggest slight increases in daily drinking and average weekly consumption. The percentage of drinkers who said they’d had their last drink within 24 hours edged up from 33% in 1997 to 37% this year. And the percentage of drinkers who’d had 1-3 drinks per day increased very slightly. But nearly a third of all drinkers still tell Gallup they hadn’t had a single drink in the week prior to the survey. Another constant: American drinkers severely underreport their alcohol beverage consumption. Indeed, Gallup reports mean consumption of only 4.1 drinks/week, up from 1997, but down slightly over the last decade. Actual consumption is significantly higher, based on reported shipments of beer, wine and spirits.
Beverage preferences have been less consistent over these years. Beer has maintained its position as the alcohol beverage drinkers say they most often consumed. But year-to-year figures have bounced around considerably. And most important, while the gap between those who preferred beer and those who preferred spirits in 1997 was 27 points, that gap shrunk to 14 points in 2017. No wonder brewers have talked so much about “losing drinking occasions” to spirits in recent years.
1997 2007 2017
Occasion to Drink 61 64 62
Last Dk 24 Hrs 33 36 37
<1 drink/day 45 48 51
1-3 drinks/day 8 8 9
Avg drinks/wk 3.6 4.8 4.1
Prefer Beer 45 40 40
Prefer Wine 32 34 30
Prefer Spirits 18 22 26
All figures are % of drinkers, except Occasion to
Drink, % of adults. Gallup Organization 2017