Vote of Confidence—or the Lack Thereof

During last fall’s vote-counting fracas in Florida, numerous commentators offered the same consoling thought: Unlike people in less-stable nations, at least we didn’t have to worry about a junta seizing control. True enough, but who’s to say Americans would be averse to a spell of military rule? In a Harris Poll asking people to assess their confidence in the “people in charge of running” major institutions, the highest number expressing a “great deal of confidence” went to the military (44 percent). That exceeds the combined numbers of respondents holding the White House (21 percent) and Congress (18 percent) in such esteem. Politicians try to allay voter concerns about bureaucratic inefficiency by vowing to run the government “like a business.” This may be an unappealing promise, though, since Americans aren’t impressed with the way business is run, either. Just 20 percent had a great deal of confidence in the people in charge of major companies, while 13 percent had “hardly any.” Wall Street’s mediocre showing last year didn’t help, but big bosses fared poorly in most of Harris’ polls during the boom years of the ’90s. For the decade as a whole, the number voicing a great deal of confidence in business leaders averaged a shade under 18 percent. Can it be that people simply enjoy thinking ill of corporate moguls? Americans clearly draw pleasure from looking down on lawyers, who consistently rank at the bottom of these surveys. This year, 10 percent of respondents said they have great confidence in the people who run law firms, versus 33 percent feeling hardly any. Only the press had as high a “hardly any” vote, and it eked out a slightly better “great deal” total (13 percent). Elsewhere in the survey, the number feeling great confidence in the people in charge of medicine fell sharply—from 44 percent last year to 32 percent this time around. And for all the talk that unions are rebounding, the “great deal” tally for labor leaders remained stuck at 15 percent for the third year in a row.
WINTER SLUMP: Oh, Just Curl Up in Front Of a Nice, Warm Computer
Global warming or no global warming, winter soon wears out its welcome. Polling by ORC International finds 39 percent of Americans saying their energy level decreases during the winter. That includes 7 percent of men and 11 percent of women who said it falls off “a lot.” On the other hand, 25 percent of respondents claimed their energy level rises during the winter, including 11 percent for whom it does so “a lot.” In a zoological flight of fancy, 53 percent of respondents said they’d like to be a southbound bird for the winter, versus 22 percent who’d rather frolic in the snow as a penguin and 21 percent who’d prefer to doze through the season as a grizzly bear. The winter is a boon for the Internet, as lots of people hibernate in front of a computer. Thirty percent of adult Internet users spend more time online during winter; 4 percent spend less time. (The moral: Don’t wait until May to launch an e-commerce site.) As the chart indicates, warm weather is the most eagerly anticipated aspect of spring, though men and young adults skew more toward outdoor activities. Older folks were the most eager to see the flowers bloom anew.
NOT MY TYPE 2: Unworried but at Risk
What if they gave an epidemic and nobody cared? So far, that seems to be the case with diabetes. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds diabetes rose a “striking” 6 percent among adults in 1999, atop a 33 percent increase from 1990 to 1998. Driven by pandemic rates of obesity, diabetes now afflicts more than 16 million Americans, and the CDC expects the number to rise sharply. People get in a tizzy about exotic diseases they have almost no chance of contracting. So, are they worried sick about this all-too-present danger? Not especially. Polling by Yankelovich Partners finds 82 percent have “never brought up the subject with their doctors or asked to be screened for their risk of the condition.” Though 39 percent of respondents confessed to being overweight, 67 percent said they are “not concerned” about developing type 2 diabetes.
FOOD FAVES: If You Are What You Eat, You Probably Aren’t Okra
Attention, all snobs who use “plain vanilla” as a term of derision. For the fourth year in a row, a reader poll by Bon Appétit found vanilla the favorite ice cream, besting chocolate by 46 percent to 38 percent. Chocolate got its due when people picked their favorite cookie, with chocolate chip (70 percent) atop the list. When it comes to comfort (see the chart), the sweet tooth is trumped by a longing for starch. (When people say a discomforting incident “took the starch out of them,” perhaps they speak more literally than they know.) Indicating that organic food has extended its appeal beyond the Birkenstock set, 69 percent of respondents sometimes buy the stuff. Do people make a point of reducing fat and calories in their cooking at home? A blithe 22 percent never do; 12 percent always do. Americans don’t care a fig for figs, the least-loved fruit for the fourth straight year. Strawberries were the favorite. Asparagus was the best-liked vegetable, okra the least-liked. Italian is the cuisine of choice when people cook at home (71 percent) or when they dine out (59 percent). Pizza is the preeminent take-out food (63 percent).
WORRIED BUT UNPANICKED: It’ll Take More than Talk Of Recession to Subdue Consumers’ Animal Spirits
Hailed as heroes of the late lamented boom, free-spending consumers are now being fitted out for the role of villain. If they suddenly shut their wallets, economists fear, these people could turn a mild downturn into a full-fledged recession. Will fears of unemployment keep consumers from rallying anew to the retail battlements? A couple of surveys (conducted early this month) shed light on the matter. Asked by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics to rate the odds that “you or someone in your family will lose their job this year,” a majority of the respondents said it’s “not very likely”(33 percent) or “not at all likely” (39 percent). Just 10 percent said it’s “very likely.” While39 percent said they’ve tried to reduce their “household and personal spending because of concern about a possible recession or job loss,” we’re entitled to wonder how hard they tried. What if people have to live off their savings after losing a job? As the chart shows, fewer than one in three of Fox News’ respondents could last more than a year without taking on debt. A Gallup poll posed the problem a bit differently, asking people how long they could go before suffering “significant financial hardship” if they found themselves jobless. Thirty percent could go unscathed for up to four months; 13 percent could do so up to one year, and 10 percent would be fine for “more than one year.” But 15 percent would feel
MIXED BLESSINGS: Those Demanding Clients, First Signs of Spring, Etc.
Some clients interpret the concept of “full-service” agency a little too fully. So we learn from a survey in which The Creative Group of Menlo Park, Calif., asked ad executives and account managers to cite “the strangest request you have heard of an agency receiving from a client.” One respondent said he was asked to help a client’s son with homework assignments. Another was asked to host a client’s wedding reception. Also in the above-and-beyond category: “I was once asked to dress up as a koala bear for a trade show.” At least it’s the sort of thing that looks impressive on one’s résumé.

Marketers of office furniture, take note: In a Glamour survey of women, 75 percent of respondents said it’s not wrong “to have sex on your desk at work after hours.” But 64 percent said it is wrong to have sex on the boss’ desk after hours.

Don’t think of a car audio system as merely a source of entertainment. Think of it as a safety device, one that will protect you from the onset of road rage. You might not get a break on your auto insurance by installing Monsoon speakers, but at least you’ll be less likely to go to jail for vehicular homicide. Young & Laramore of Indianapolis created the ad.

In the land of individuality, uniformity has found its niche. And a lucrative niche it is, too. A survey by The NPD Group finds retail sales of school uniforms reached $1.1 billion last year, up from $900 million in 1999. Among respondents with kids in elementary and middle schools, 14 percent have at least one child who’s required to be in uniform. Mass merchandisers, specialty stores and chains account for the bulk of uniform sales.

In movies and sitcoms, women are always the ones trying to get married and men are the ones trying to stave it off. One wouldsurmise, then, that women are viewed as the principal beneficiaries of marriage. But that’s not how respondents to an online poll by Health magazine saw matters. Of that cohort (which likely skewed female), 65 percent agreed that “men benefit more from marriage than women.” If only the lads showed more gratitude.

Cynics will say the renewed popularity of minor-league baseball bodes well for the Baltimore Orioles, since that’s about the level at which the team often played last year. Leaving nothing to chance, though, the O’s have launched an ad campaign (via hometown shop Trahan, Burden & Charles) to whet Baltimoreans appetite for a new season. The citrus-themed visual will lend credence to suspicions that the ball has been “juiced” to increase the number of home runs.