That Puzzling Traffic, Football Favorites, Etc.

Have you noticed less traffic on the roads in recent weeks? You should have, given the number of people who claim that high gas prices have prompted them to drive less. If the roads aren’t less clogged, it likely means people fear they’ll sound like fools if they don’t tell pollsters they’re driving less, whether it’s true or not. Anyhow, an AARP poll of Americans age 50-plus adds to the inventory of such data. Forty-seven percent said they’ve cut down on travel and vacations. Among other ways in which they economize: reducing other spending (cited by 41 percent), saving less (40 percent), reducing visits to family/friends (39 percent), walking more (28 percent) and eating less (13 percent). Those last two findings suggest high gas prices could be a boon to older Americans’ health. Unfortunately, 6 percent said they’ve reduced medical treatment; the same number said they’ve cut back on their prescription drugs.

Not everyone is fed up with high gas prices. In a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll fielded at the end of last month, 85 percent of adults said they are indeed fed up on that score. But an undaunted 12 percent said they “don’t feel that way.” This matches the masochistic percentage who aren’t fed up with “partisan bickering in Washington, D.C.” How about hurricanes? Despite the redundancy of Katrina-then-Rita, fewer said they’re fed up with hurricanes (37 percent) than said they don’t feel that way (47 percent). Just 11 percent of respondents said they’re fed up with their jobs, while 61 percent don’t feel that way; the rest said they don’t know or that the question doesn’t apply to them.

Americans remain loyal to the ideal of loyalty, even while feeling it’s less of a force than was once the case. In Harris Interactive polling commissioned by In Character, which calls itself “A journal of everyday virtues,” 81 percent of respondents agreed that “companies are becoming less loyal to their workers.” Sixty-one percent agreed that “marital infidelity seems to be more acceptable today.” Just 27 percent said they believe “people are as loyal to the U.S. as they were a generation ago.” And yet, as you can see from the chart at lower left, large majorities believe loyalty to family and country (military included) are important. The poll found a wide gender gap when it asked whether people agreed with the statement, “Women are more loyal than men.” Thirty-nine percent of female respondents agreed, vs. 15 percent of male respondents.

Getting some survey data off its chest, The NPD Group reports girls age 13-19 buy an average of 4.8 bras per year. Annual bra spending for this cohort amounts to $76 per capita. And while brand loyalty may be ebbing in other sectors, it’s on the increase here: 13 percent of the girls said there is “only one brand of bra they will consider purchasing,” vs. 6 percent a year ago.

Maybe they should give out toasters with each stock purchase. A Maritz Poll seeks to find out why banks haven’t captured much of the market in selling stocks to the public. (They’d been barred from such activity until the law was changed in 1999.) In a survey of individual investors, just 10 percent reported using a bank as their “primary investment provider.” A Maritz analyst suggests banks have made little headway in this field because they “are not recognized as having the ability to provide the same level of investment advisory services as brokerage firms.”

As if two major hurricanes weren’t enough, America’s economy must now cope with the devastating effects of the baseball post-season. Challenger, Gray & Christmas has issued a bulletin predicting that employers will lose millions of dollars in productivity as workers waste “an inordinate amount of time” following and talking about the games. “Just 30 minutes could cost these employers a combined $225 million in lost wages,” says the outplacement firm. (And that doesn’t include the time Challenger’s own employees spend cranking out these press releases every time a major event rolls around.) If one accepts the logic behind this sort of statement, one must examine its implications more broadly. For instance, the absence of an obvious blockbuster hit in the new TV season must be a multimillion-dollar boon to workplace productivity, since workers are not clustering around the proverbial water cooler to discuss the previous night’s episode. And if life in general becomes more boring, a day at the office will seem (comparatively speaking) less boring, prompting a further surge in economic activity. We’ll be watching for it.

Aggressive driving on the road is as nothing compared to aggressive driving in the supermarket. Bloom, a modernized offshoot of the Food Lion chain, alludes to that fact in the cover of a newspaper insert when it shows how “The narrow aisles finally gave way to Ellen’s cart rage.” It’s a clever way of stressing that Bloom stores are designed to get consumers in and out with a minimum of time and fuss (and rage). Another ad in the campaign shows what resembles a cents-off coupon. Actually, it’s promising “20 minutes off your next trip to the grocery store”—an offer busy folks will find tempting. Boone/ Oakley of Charlotte, N.C., created the ads.

They’ve been hopeless on the field so far this year, but the Green Bay Packers are one of America’s invincible brands. In a Harris Poll conducted at the start of the NFL season, people who follow pro football were asked to identify their two favorite teams. The Packers got the most votes (cited by 16 percent), edging the Dallas Cowboys (14 percent). The New England Patriots’ dominance of recent Super Bowls was good enough to win the team 13 percent of the vote, though this left the Pats in a tie with the up-and-coming Pittsburgh Steelers. Has Hurricane Katrina prompted fans to adopt the New Orleans Saints as the new America’s Team? Not so you’d notice it in the poll: The Saints were picked as a fave by just 3 percent of football fans. Only the Cincinnati Bengals (a good team this year, for once), Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals had fewer partisans. Another recent Harris Poll identified Britain as the country most Americans regard as a close ally of the U.S. Yet another found that nurses are the professionals most held in esteem by Americans. Putting all of these findings together, we can surmise that the most-admired person in American eyes would be a Britisher who is team nurse for the Green Bay Packers.