Steroids’ Bad Press, Financial Anxiety, Etc.

Some people say steroids have damaged the image of baseball. Surely it’s as fair to say baseball has damaged the image of steroids. After all, some forms of steroids have legitimate medical uses, yet the word now conjures up the image of players cheating to inflate their statistics. It’s time the steroids industry went on the offensive to clear its good name! In the meantime, an Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll finds Barry Bonds now has the distinction of an approval rating lower than that of George Bush (who, so far, has not been accused of using steroids): 27 percent of adults have a favorable impression of Bonds. The poll found just 36 percent saying they’re fans of pro baseball, and many sound like the fair-weather variety. Asked how often they follow a live broadcast of a game or attend one in person, 5 percent of self-described fans said “never” and 18 percent said “only a few times a season.” Ten percent said “about once a month,” 18 percent “several times a month,” 21 percent “about once a week” and 21 percent “several games a week but not every game.” Let us tip our caps to the 7 percent who said they watch “every game.”

Measured by the old “misery index” (unemployment rate plus inflation rate), the economy is robust. Nonetheless, Americans’ views of their own finances remain mixed at best. In a new Gallup survey, a bare majority of respondents said their current financial situation is “excellent” (10 percent) or “good” (41 percent). Twelve percent said it’s “poor,” and 37 percent “only fair.” While not rosy, such numbers don’t bespeak general despair. Nor do most people feel on the brink of disaster. Asked whether their “financial situation as a whole” is getting better or worse, 47 percent said “better,” 37 percent said “worse” and 15 percent said it’s staying about the same. Still, they don’t feel comfortable about spending (even if they keep doing so at a brisk clip). When the poll asked whether they’re “in a good position to buy some of the things you would like to have, or is now a rather bad time for you to spend money,” “bad” trounced “good” by 62 percent to 33 percent. Gasoline prices are an obvious culprit. In a CNN poll fielded by Opinion Research Corp., 23 percent of adults reported suffering “severe hardship” due to high gas prices; 46 percent said they’re enduring “moderate hardship.” When such pressures force people to cut their spending, what exactly do they cut? An ACNielsen poll (see chart at lower left) gives an indication. In light of such numbers, you’d expect consumers to shun vehicles with big, gas-hungry engines. But no. A report by J.D. Power and Associates says they’re “still buying about the same proportion of new vehicles equipped with eight-, six- or four-cylinder engines as they did in the summer of 2005.” In the first quarter of 2006, nearly one-quarter of newly purchased vehicles had eight-cylinder engines. Those with four-cylinder engines—the ones that actually get good gas mileage—have been stuck at around one-third of the market.

Throw momma from the budget? Perish the thought. Despite the penny-pinching people now claim to do, austerity doesn’t extend to Mother’s Day. In a survey conducted by BIG-research for the National Retail Federation, respondents said they’ll spend an average of $122 for the occasion, vs. last year’s $105. The rise reflects consumers’ growing tendency to bestow gifts on “all the moms they know,” not just their own. “Shoppers will also make sure to pick up something for their wife (20.7 percent), daughter (9.1 percent), grandmother (8.5 percent), sister (7 percent), friend (7 percent) and other relatives (12.3 percent).”

Were people less overtly emotional last year? Seems unlikely. A Yankelovich poll, though, suggests they at least think they were. As excerpted in a Yankelovich Monitor Minute report, a survey conducted last year found 56 percent of adults agreeing that it’s extremely important or very important to them to be seen as “someone who can keep their emotions in check.” That’s up from 37 percent in a 2004 survey. The report didn’t indicate whether respondents sounded all worked up as they made these declarations.

Honors for Biggest Pine-Scented Air Freshener in a Telecom Ad go this week to the newly merged AT&T. Text on the tree offers the “Mission Statement” of the guy in the photo: “Be too busy mashing the accelerator to ever check the rearview mirror.” Copy at the bottom of the ad explains that he uses AT&T’s managed IP services “to securely and instantly connect his company to designers, suppliers and buyers all over the world.” No doubt this helps him to ignore the overpowering pine aroma in his office. Rodgers/Townsend of St. Louis created the ad.

Sigmund Freud isn’t the man of American women’s dreams (interpreted or otherwise). In a poll of women by Hearst’s new Weekend magazine, respondents were asked which of three doctors they’d choose to spend a weekend with: Dr. Freud, Dr. Phil McGraw or Dr. Ruth Westheimer. McGraw was the landslide winner, pulling 50 percent of the vote, with Westheimer a distant second (27 percent) and Freud dead last (23 percent). Elsewhere in the same survey, women were asked to say which of three phrases best characterizes their own view of the weekend. Forty-five percent said they regard it as “family time,” while 34 percent see it as “my time” and 21 percent as “time to get things done.”

Maybe the Internet isn’t such a font of misinformation after all. Or maybe the people who rely on online advice haven’t yet figured out that it is. A report from the Pew Internet & American Life project states that 45 percent of online adults have used the Internet in the past two years to help them with a major decision in such areas as buying a car, making a substantial investment, picking a school for themselves or a child, or helping someone deal with a serious illness. Those who said the Internet played a “crucial” or “important” role in handling such situations were asked whether they got bad information online that made the process more difficult. Just 5 percent said this was a problem for them. Nor did “information overload” pose a difficulty for most of the people who relied heavily on the Internet to assist them in these matters. “Just 15 percent said they sometimes felt overwhelmed by the amount of information they had, 71 percent said they had all the information they needed and thought it was manageable, and 11 percent said they were missing information that they wish they had.”