Unrepentant Guzzlers, Looming Disasters, Etc.

If there were an automotive brand named Gas-Guzzling Vehicle, you’d have to give it credit for commanding remarkable consumer loyalty. A survey fielded this month for CNN by Opinion Research Corp. asked respondents whether, as a result of soaring gasoline prices, they’ve “seriously considered getting a more fuel-efficient car the next time you buy a vehicle.” This is one of those polling questions to which the expected answer is painfully obvious: “Why, yes, I have seriously considered doing that.” But while 60 percent of respondents played along and answered affirmatively, a dauntless 36 percent declared that they hadn’t even entertained the possibility of buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. We can assume that automakers are taking heed of this sizable market, even while making mealymouthed protestations of their devotion to fuel economy.

They can’t help getting another day older, but Americans don’t want to find themselves deeper in debt. With financial anxieties persisting despite all signs of the economy’s strength, an Experian/Gallup Personal Credit Index survey finds a growing number of adults saying this is a bad time to borrow. Nineteen percent said it’s a “very bad time” to do so, up from 12 percent a year ago; 23 percent said it’s a “bad time,” up from 20 percent. Just 15 percent said it’s a “good time” to borrow, down from 27 percent a year ago.

It’ll be an action-packed 10 years, if Americans are correct in the guesses they expressed in a Harris Poll (see chart below). Of the possibilities about which people were quizzed, only one (a 1929-scale crash of the stock market) had as many as 40 percent of respondents saying it’s “not at all likely” to occur. On the other hand, the highest “very likely” vote was 19 percent, for both the major war and the Social Security implosion. We might infer that people have a vague hunch something disastrous will soon happen, but not a more specific sense that any particular fiasco is plainly in the cards. (The inclusion of a female presidency, which might or might not prove to be a disaster, was an anomalous element in the survey.)

The answers: Oprah Winfrey, 20 percent; Jennifer Aniston, 10 percent; Rachel Ray, 9 percent; Susan Sarandon, 7 percent; Angelina Jolie, 6 percent; Diane Sawyer and Sarah Jessica Parker, each 5 percent. And the question, posed to women in a poll by Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel: Which of various female celebrities would you pick as your companion for a “girlfriend getaway” trip. None of the other celebs won more than 5 percent of the vote, though Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush were close (5 percent each). Among those sharing the ignominy of receiving less than 1 percent of the tally were Martha Stewart, Kate Moss and Lindsay Lohan.

Don’t rent your kid’s room out yet, just because he’s graduating from college. There’s a good chance he’ll want it back for a while. In a poll of college upperclassmen conducted by Synovate for Citi’s financial-education program, 28 percent of respondents said they expect to live with their parents after they’ve graduated. And that’s just a fraction of the 64 percent who expect some sort of financial support from their parents after graduation. It’s not that the students expect they’ll remain unemployed: Seven of 10 think they’ll land a full-time job within three months after they graduate. Seventy-two percent said they rely on their parents for financial advice. While that sounds nice, it would be more reassuring were it not for the fact that lots of those parents are probably up to their ears in debt.

Many small businesses would be even smaller were it not for the Internet. A poll of small-company owners/managers by Open from American Express (the company’s small-business-oriented unit) finds growing reliance on the Internet. Fifty-six percent said they go online to buy supplies (up from 31 percent in a 2003 poll); 37 percent do so to network with other small-business owners or to sell products/services (vs. 21 percent in 2003); 13 percent (up from 8 percent) go online to apply for loans or credit cards. Forty-seven percent use the Internet to market or advertise their companies (up from 27 percent).

The malevolence of office equipment knows no bounds, as any white-collar wage slave can affirm. An ad (shown above right) for Gordon Flesch Co., a vendor of copiers and other such contraptions, aptly captures that fact by raising the paper jam to the level of art. If the machine in your office has yet to confront you with menacing origami, it’s probably just biding its time. HSR Business to Business of Cincinnati created the clever ad.

While state tourism ads try for snappy slogans, maybe they ought to concentrate on letting people know where the state is located. A study by the National Geographic Society and Roper Public Affairs found widespread geographic illiteracy among Americans age 18-24. Though especially conspicuous when participants were quizzed about foreign lands, ignorance carried over to U.S. geography as well. Just 50 percent could locate the state of New York on a map; 43 percent could find Ohio. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, 67 percent were able to find Louisiana on a map. But a bare majority (52 percent) could locate Mississippi. Disappointment awaits for those who’d planned a driving vacation to the Alps: 10 percent of participants think that mountain range is in North America. People were also shaky on time zones. Asked what time it is in Los Angeles when it’s noon in New York, two-thirds gave the right answer. But 15 percent said it’d be 3 p.m. in Los Angeles, and 8 percent said it’d be 3 a.m. Three percent thought it’d be noon there, too.

Memo to bartenders who cater to an ad-agency clientele: Go easy on the chit-chat. In a poll of ad executives by Food & Wine magazine, a plurality of respondents (37 percent) said their ideal bartender “makes your drink and leaves you alone.” Just half as many said they prefer a bartender who “wants to hear your life story.” Giving precedence to the visual over the copy, 25 percent said the ideal bartender “is a model in his/her spare time.”