The Pre-Olympic Spirit, Vacation Relativity, Etc.

By the time the umpteenth gymnast has landed on the mat in triumphant pose, Americans may change their minds. Before the fact, though, many are expecting to be interested in this summer’s Olympics. In an Ipsos-Public Affairs poll, 21 percent said they’re “very interested” and 44 percent “somewhat interested” in the Athens games. Just 14 percent had the gall to admit they’re “not at all interested.” When respondents were asked to say which sport they’ll “follow most closely,” gymnastics eked out a plurality (30 percent), ahead of track and field (24 percent), swimming (15 percent), basketball (10 percent), boxing (6 percent) and volleyball (2 percent). By a narrow margin, people said they’re more interested in men’s events than in women’s. Relatively few Americans take umbrage at the corporate sponsorships that have become an Olympics fixture. Twenty percent subscribed to the view that sponsorships “are mostly a bad thing that needlessly commercializes the event,” but 78 percent agreed that sponsorships “are mostly a good thing that provides a source of needed funding.”

Teens will have more time than money to spend if a new forecast on the summer-jobs market is correct. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University predicts that 42 percent of kids age 16-19 will find work this summer. That’s on a par with last year’s figure, but down significantly from the 52 percent who found jobs in the halcyon summer of 2000. The report says 2003 and 2004 will rank as the two worst summer-job years for teenagers since 1948.

No wonder they’re called “gay”: The nation’s homosexuals find time to dine out, go to concerts, hang out in nightclubs and go dancing in numbers unimaginable among the hetero population. In a Qtopia Media/ Mariposa Group poll of gay and lesbian adults in major metro areas, respondents were asked whether they often engage in various leisure-time activities. On a regular basis, 77 percent dine out, 67 percent go to the movies, 48 percent visit bars/clubs and 46 percent go to live music events. Thirty percent claimed they even go dancing. It’ll be interesting to see how that last number holds up if same-sex marriage becomes common. If different-sex marriage is anything to judge by, I’d bet on a same-sex dancing downturn.

Consumers say their purchase decisions are significantly influenced by a company’s corporate citizenship, or lack thereof. But lots of corporate executives seem not to believe them. A WirthlinWorldwide survey asked the general public and executives of Fortune 1,000 companies to say how much effect corporate citizenship has on people’s purchase decisions. Forty percent of consumers said it has a big impact, but only 12 percent of executives said they believe that’s so; 17 percent of consumers, vs. 32 percent of executives, said a company’s good citizenship exerts “not much influence” or “no influence at all.” When asked to cite activities that elevate a company’s standing as a good corporate citizen, the public gave the most votes to “providing products or funds for education”; the executives gave the most votes to “being environmentally friendly.”

The market for hybrid cars continues to chug along. A study by R.L. Polk & Co. finds a 25.8 percent rise in registrations of hybrid vehicles for 2003 vs. 2002. Of course, hybrids still have a tiny share of the automotive market, but the study predicts that high gas prices will give sales a further push this year. So will the planned increase in hybrid offerings, “including hybrid versions of the Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, Dodge Ram Pickup, Ford Escape, Honda Accord, Lexus RX 400 and the Toyota Highlander.” Meanwhile, a separate study by J.D. Power and Associates finds growing consumer awareness of the hybrid-powertrain option. Among people who own a conventional light vehicle with an internal combustion engine, 57 percent said they’re very or somewhat familiar with hybrid technology. And among those who’ve bought a new light vehicle during the past three years, 75 percent are hybrid-aware.

It’ll take more than high gas prices to keep lots of Americans from piling into the family car and driving to Aunt Edna’s this vacation season. In an online poll conducted by CoolSavings for Thrifty Car Rental, people were asked how much (if at all) the “expected significant increase in gas prices” will affect their vacation plans this year. Eight percent said they’ll stay put, and 23 percent said they’ll travel a shorter distance. But 59 percent said the rise in gas prices won’t affect their plans. Where will vacationers vacation this year? Most of them (83 percent) plan to do so in the U.S. More specifically, 33 percent plan on a beach vacation, 17 percent will visit a “big city,” 10 percent will head for the mountains and 9 percent will go camping. A remarkable number of respondents (31 percent) said they’ll travel to visit relatives. (The poll didn’t indicate whether the relatives are aware of this.) How long are people willing to drive in one day to reach their destination? Very long: 21 percent said they’re game to drive more than 10 hours, with another 19 percent saying they’d endure a 9-10-hour day on the road.

If women had more of the paunchy male’s knack for obliviousness, they’d be happier. Instead, a Glamour poll finds women continue to be unforgiving critics of their bodies. Forty-two percent said they’re “unhappy about their bodies”; 71 percent “feel too fat.” Indeed, the survey found women to be “shockingly intolerant of weight fluctuations.” When asked, “How much more could you weigh and still like yourself?,” 56 percent said “zero pounds”; 30 percent said they’d stop liking themselves if they put on more than five pounds. What would make women happiest? As you can see from the chart, the reappearance of an old friend is a less thrilling prospect than the reappearance of one’s old waistline.