Tens of millions of Americans become delusional every evening: They believe they're watching a network newscast even though they're not. How else to explain the results of recent polls (prompted by Katie Couric's announced shift to CBS) that asked adults whether they watch the nightly news? Ratings data put the total audience for the networks' evening newscasts somewhere short of 30 million. In a USA Today/Gallup survey, though, 45 percent of adults said they watch one of the three network evening newscasts every evening, with another 19 percent saying they watch several times a week. An Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll (which tossed the PBS evening news hour into the mix along with the commercial networks' newscasts) elicited similar results, with 38 percent of adults claiming to watch every day and 25 percent saying they do so several times a week. If all of those respondents were telling the truth, these figures would give the evening newscasts a collective audience several times as large as the viewership they've actually got. One can surmise that while the nightly news no longer garners a massive share of eyeballs, it has retained a large share of mind.
While college students tend to have a lively sense of people's rights, property rights aren't high on the list. A national poll of college students, commissioned by the Intellectual Property Institute at the University of Richmond's law school, found that 34 percent illegally download music from peer-to-peer networks. That nearly equals (and partly overlaps with) the 39 percent who said they pay for downloads. (Forty percent don't get music online.) As you can see from the chart above, relatively few students think free downloading of copyrighted material is both legal and ethical. But that doesn't necessarily stop them from doing it. Another question in the poll asked students to say which of three statements most closely matches their own views on illegal file sharing. Thirty-nine percent subscribed to the statement, "You don't think it should be illegal"; 35 percent picked "It's wrong, but you do it to save money"; just 24 percent endorsed the view that "It's wrong and you think it's the same as stealing."
These may not be the best of times. For a majority of Americans, though, they aren't the worst of times, either. In a Rasmussen Reports poll fielded last month, adults were asked whether they're better off now than four years ago. Fifty-five percent said they're better off, vs. 36 percent saying they're not. There was little gender gap here, with 56 percent of men and 54 percent of women saying they're better off now. Nor was there much of a racial disparity: 55 percent of whites and 52 percent of blacks said they're better off.
So why is the traffic still so bad? In a Gallup poll on the effects of high gasoline prices, 48 percent of adults said they've "cut back significantly" on the amount of driving they do. Fifty-four percent said they've cut back significantly on other household outlays. The claim of a general reduction in spending was more common among households with yearly income under $50,000, with 60 percent of these respondents saying they've made such cutbacks. Even in the $50,000-plus bracket, though, 48 percent said they've significantly reduced general household expenditures. Retail sales data (trending generally upward) scarcely support these claims of austerity. Still, it's intriguing that people feel obliged to assert they've reined in their spending—as if they fear they'd sound profligate otherwise.
In the debate over immigration, much has been said about the notion of building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Ah, but what about our other border? A Fox News/ Opinion Dynamics poll this month quizzed American adults on whether we should "build a wall or security fence along the U.S.-Canada border to stop illegal immigration." Thirty-six percent of respondents favored such a step, while 57 percent opposed it. Sure, it's nice that we can finally get authentic Manitoban cuisine in any fair-sized U.S. city, but pro-wall respondents apparently feel it's more important to keep those Canadian hordes at bay (preferably Hudson Bay).