Public-Interest Polling

ATI #30 Full Report

The Y2K Problem

Master Questionnaire and Analysis

August 3-9, 1998; N=1014 Adults

Margin of error for full sample: +/- 3.1%
Margin of error for half samples: +/- 4.4%

Awareness
The Number of Experts in the US
Naming the Problem
Seriousness
Who Can You Trust?
Who Should Be Held Responsible? Accountable? Legally Liable?
What You Can Do
"Every Man For Himself?"
Eight Propositions for Mitigation
Endnotes

Awareness of Y2K

Master Questionnaire, Q1-Q2

I have a question about computers...

Q1. All things considered, would you say that computers have made your life better or worse?

Better
78%
Worse
6%
No Difference/Mixed (VOL)
14%
Don't Know
2%
Refused/NA
<1

Q2. As you may know, many computers in this country and around the world have to be fixed, reprogrammed, or replaced so they will operate properly when computers have to deal with calendar date changes in years beginning with 2000. This has been called the Year 2000 problem, the millennium glitch, the millennium bug, or the Y2k (WHY-TWO-K) problem. How much have you heard about this problem? (READ CODES 1-4)

Nothing
9%
Very Little
16%
Some
29%
A Lot
45%
Don't Know
<1

Analysis
At a consensus level15 of 78% in Q1, Americans feel that computers, on balance, make their own lives better, as compared to 6% who choose "worse", and to 14% who volunteer that computers, on balance, make no difference or produce mixed results. A large volunteer response in ATI's experience16 suggests that, if offered as a choice, a substantial minority, possibly even a majority, would have preferred the volunteered choice, or in this case, would have preferred to have been allowed to comment on what in their lives computers had made better and what worse, rather than merely allowed to make the binary choice between "better" and "worse".

When the Y2K problem is introduced in Q2, described with minimal language and few clues as to what name to call it, unlike earlier Y2K surveys1, A30 in the field in early August 1998 shows that a substantial plurality of 45% say they have heard a lot about the problem as compared to the choices: 29%:"some", 16%: "very little", and 9%: "nothing", far less than the 38% who said they heard nothing about it.1

Demographic Highlights
The group most out-of-line with the general population on life better or worse with computers is the "over 65s" who are 16 points lower with only 62% agreeing that computers have made their lives better. All questions of the survey have been cross-tabbed against the 78% who say their lives are "better" and the 22% who do not agree with that.

The density of those who say they have heard nothing about Y2K among those under 29 is almost twice that of the rest of the population, and among those with incomes over $50K, it is less than half. At the other end of the scale, those who say they have heard "a lot" about Y2K are disproportionately older or have more income (almost a two-to-one density increase from the lowest to the highest on both the age and income scales). 91% of E-mail users, but only 56% of those who have not gone beyond high school, have heard some or a lot about Y2K.

The Number of Y2K Experts in the US

Master Questionnaire, Q3

Q3. (Asked of those saying "a lot.") Would you consider yourself an "expert" in this problem?

Yes
5% (4.6%)
No/Don't Know/Refused
41%
Not Asked
55%

Analysis

When those saying they have heard "a lot" about Y2K are asked in Q3, a remarkably large 4.6% of the total sample say that they are "experts" on Y2K. With a 95% confidence factor we can extrapolate that 4.6% from our n=1014 sample to the 200,060,000 adults in the country to conclude that between 6.0 million and 12.4 million Americans over age 18 believe that they are experts in Y2K, remarkably high numbers. The country needs the skills of this large pool of people too.

If this question is repeated in later ATI surveys, it would be appropriate and revealing to test these self-selected experts with a few technical questions they should be able to handle. It might produce a significant increase in the talent pool for Y2K.

Demographic Highlights
Suburbia has almost twice the density of Y2K experts as are to be found in urban and rural areas. The density of experts among upper income folks (>$50K) is four times greater than among lower income folks (<$25K). In the child bearing years (18-39), the density of men experts vs. women experts is 8 to 1.

Novel Polling Technique for Sizing Small Groups
This finding of the number of self-selected experts, discussed above, represents what may be a new use of polls: determining roughly how many people fall into a certain category, when the number is a relatively small percent of the total population as in this case of Y2K experts. The much more common need in marketing and social and political science research is to reach a large number of relatively rare individuals. By far the most economical way to reach a relatively rare category of persons is to obtain special contact lists (e.g., from mailing list suppliers), where they would be found in much greater concentrations than in a random sample of the population. But that process might not produce a good estimate of the size of the category. Because of the 3% or 4% sampling error associated with typical random surveys, one would ordinarily not expect enough accuracy to make this useful. But when the density of the desired category is low, as in this case at 4.6% of adults over 18, the standard error drops considerably, in this case, to 1.6%, and this produces what might be a more accurate estimate of the category population than any other means. Considering costs, if the survey has been conducted and cost-justified for other purposes, as it has in this case, it might be fair to say that the cost of obtaining the estimate is almost zero, and then indeed such a random sample poll may well be the most cost-effective way of obtaining the most accurate estimate of the size of relatively small sub-populations.

Naming the Problem

Master Questionnaire, Q4

(Introduction told everyone except those who said they had heard "a lot":) The problem stems from the use in many computers of a two-digit dating method. Without programming changes, the systems will recognize zero-zero not as the year two thousand but as nineteen hundred. This could cause the computers either to shut down or to malfunction on January One, Two Thousand.

Q4. What names for this problem are you familiar with? (Four mentions allowed.)

Y2K (WHY-TWO-KAY)
29%
The Millennium Glitch
39%
The Millennium Bug
37%
tee-OH-tawa-kee [VOL]
2%
Other [VOL]
4%
No Special Name
25%
Don't Know
3%

Analysis

When the Y2K problem is described in Q4 as arising from the confusion that occurs when the common two digit method of storing year dates reaches the year ’00, (interpreted by many computers as 1900) and adults are asked what name they know it by with three choices offered: Y2K, the millennium glitch, and the millennium bug, 66% of the n=1014 sample mentioned one or more of them in roughly equal numbers. Of the remaining 34%, only 6% volunteer any other names, 25% say they had no special name for it, and 3% DK. The interviewer then mentioned that s/he would call the problem simply "Y2K".

Seriousness of Y2K

Master Questionnaire, Q5-Q10

From now on, we’ll just use WHY-TWO-KAY.

Q5. How serious do you think the Y2K (WHY-TWO-KAY) problem is going to turn out to be? We’ll use a one-to-five scale, where one means you think it will be a NOT-AT-ALL SERIOUS problem and five means you think it will be a EXTREMELY SERIOUS problem. You can use any number between one and five. The bigger the number, the more serious of a problem you think it will be.

1
10%
2
18%
3
34%
4
19%
5
17%
Average
3.2%
Don't Know
3%

Q6. Some experts on Y2K say it is NOT-AT-ALL-SERIOUS. They think things are developing something like this: Y2K will affect only isolated individuals and groups. Businesses are already close to fixing their computer problems that could cause systems to fail. Those companies which are a little behind -- when they feel the hot breath of the deadline getting close -- will be able to push to finish on time. It will be a big effort, no doubt, but they'll make it. There will be a few spectacular failures around the world that the media will hype, but in the big picture they will not amount to anything.

I’d like to ask how you react to that view of the problem as NOT AT ALL SERIOUS. How likely do you think things will develop in this way? Very likely, somewhat likely, or not at all likely?

Q7. Some experts on Y2K say it is SERIOUS. They think the problem is developing something like this: Some individuals will be inconvenienced, some corporations will fail, but not one person in a hundred will suffer any real hardships, and for most of them such hardships will last a few days or a few weeks at most. Most people will have few if any problems. Although the whole thing may be considered a disaster, measured by lives or money, it will be no worse than the greatest storm or other major natural disasters that regularly occur somewhere in the world.

I’d like to ask how you react to that view of the problem as SERIOUS. How likely do you think things will develop in this way? Very likely, somewhat likely, or not at all likely?

Q8. Some experts on Y2K say it is an EXTREMELY SERIOUS problem. They think that it is developing something like this: Y2K is one of the most serious problems the modern world has ever faced. It is going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars more to fix it. There are not nearly enough qualified technicians to fix it or could be trained to fix it in time to be ready for the new century. The economy will be disrupted with lengthy shut-downs of electricity supplies and major industries. There will be widespread dislocation and possibly chaos, even a collapse of law and order at all levels of government.

I’d like to ask how you react to that view of the problem as EXTREMELY SERIOUS. How likely do you think things will develop in this way? Very likely, somewhat likely, or not at all likely?

Reaction
Q6
Not-At-All-Serious
Q7
Serious
Q8 Extremely Serious
Very Likely
22%
21%
18%
Somewhat Likely
55%
53%
33%
Not At All Likely
21%
25%
48%
Don't Know
2%
1%
1%

Q9. Now that you have heard the experts views, I am going to ask a question that I asked before. How serious do YOU think the Y2K problem is going to turn out to be, on a scale of one to five. This time, ONE means you agree most with the experts’ NOT AT ALL SERIOUS view. THREE now means you agree most with the experts’ view of SERIOUS. FIVE means you agree most with the experts’ view of EXTREMELY SERIOUS. You can use any number between one and five — and, in fact, If you think it is LESS serious than any of the experts believe, you could also say "zero". If you think it is MORE serious than any of the experts say, you could even say "six". Where do you stand on the experts scale?

0
3%
1
14%
2
24%
3
30%
4
14%
5
10%
6
5%
Average (0-6)
2.89
Average (1-5)*
2.86
Don't Know
<1

* Average computed on recoded scale, to facilitate comparison
with results to Q5: 0 collapsed into 1, and 6 collapsed into 5.

Let's go into this a little more:

Q10. Some believe that experts who say Y2K is a big problem, are simply trying to make money off it. They say that these experts — like corporate lawyers, computer consultants, and media executives — exaggerate the problem to scare people into hiring them or reading their magazines and papers and watching their TV channels.

Others think that companies downplay the problem trying to avoid law suits. Those who think the Y2K problem is very serious believe that others just do not know as much about the problem as they do. Most top U.S. leaders do think the problem is pretty serious. Those ideas might or might not make you want to change your answer. Let me ask again. Where are you on the experts scale now, where one means not-at-all serious and five means extremely serious?

0
3%
1
14%
2
24%
3
30%
4
14%
5
10%
6
5%
Average (0-6)
2.89
Average (1-5)*
2.86
Don't Know
<1

* Average computed on recoded scale, to facilitate
comparison
with results to Q5: 0 collapsed into 1, and 6 collapsed into 5.

Analysis

In Q5 with no further information given, respondents are asked how serious a problem they think that Y2K was going to turn out to be on a scale of 1 to 5, where "1" means not-at-all serious and "5" means extremely serious. The results are shown under Q5 in Table 1. This result is consistent with the June 5-7 '98 Gallup result that 48% thought Y2K would cause major problems, 47% minor problems, 1% no problems, 4% DK. Questions Q6-Q10 show that the public has more specific ideas of the seriousness of Y2K than Q5 or the Gallup result can show alone.

Table 1 - Comparison of
Three Tests of Seriousness of Y2K
Q5, Q9, and Q10
Scale
Choice
Percentages are always of total sample
Q5
Q5-->Q9
Q9
Q9-->Q10
Q10
0
 
 
 
3%
0%
1%
2%
1
10%
2%
3%
14%
<1
3%
14%
2
18%
5%
3%
24%
1%
4%
24%
3
34%
13%
5%
30%
3%
3%
31%
4
19%
9%
2%
14%
2%
<1
13%
5
17%
7%
2%
10%
1%
<1
13%
6
   
 
 
5%
3%
 
2%
Average
3.2
 
 
2.89
 
 
2.90
Don't Know
3%
 
 
<1
 
 
<1

Self-rated on the Y2K seriousness scale: 1-5 in Q5 and 0-6 in Q9 and in Q10. Respondents were asked to use the expert scale definition which they had to briefly ponder in Q6-Q8 to re-rate themselves in Q9. Then they heard why some experts might be biased toward promoting more serious and some less serious scenarios before re-re-rating themselves in Q10.

The columns with up and down arrows in Table 1 show the changes that produced the Q9 ratings from the Q5 ratings - and the Q10 from the Q9. For example, 10% of the total sample rated themselves "1" in Q5. Roughly 20% of the 10% or 2% lowered their rating (to "0") and roughly 30% of the 10% or 3% raised their rating to some higher rating (to a rating "1" or greater).

In Q6, Q7, and Q8, all are asked to evaluate the likelihood of occurrence of three expert-generated scenarios, appropriately labeled as: "not-at-all-serious," "serious", and "extremely serious". (Note: the word "scenario" was never used in the survey.) The results are shown in Table 2.

Table 2 - First Reaction to Experts View of Seriousness
 
Q6
Not-at-all
Serious
Q7
Serious
Q8
Extremely Serious
Responses to Experts Scenarios
%
Q9 av. rating
%
Q9 av. rating
%
Q9 av. rating
Very Likely
22
2.96
21
2.87
18
4.41
Somewhat likely
55
2.86
53
2.88
33
3.23
Not at all likely
21
2.88
25
2.06
48
2.08
Don't Know
2
 
1
1
 

 In the first column are the responses: "very likely," "somewhat likely," "not at all likely", and "DK" offered to respondents after hearing each of the three scenarios: Q6, "not-at-all serious"; Q7, "serious"; and Q8, "extremely serious". The percent who responded in each of the four ways and (except for DK) the average rating of that group on the 0-6 scale of Q9 are shown in the Table for each of the three scenarios. For example, 22% responded "very likely" in Q6 and the average rating of this 22% on the 0-6 scale of Q9 was 2.96. There were so few DKs that the average Q9 rating for them would be misleading.

Respondents are then, in Q9, re-asked how serious they think Y2K is likely to be – this time on the experts’ scale where "1" means they agree with the expert version of "not-at-all serious, "3" means agreeing with the experts’ "serious", and "5" means accepting the experts’ "extremely serious". They were encouraged to use not only any number between 1 and 5, but also to say "zero" if they thought it would even be less serious than the experts’ "not-at-all-serious" scenario and "six" if they thought that it would be more serious than the experts’ "extremely serious" scenario. DKs at only 1 or 2% indicate that these three questions were well-understood 17. The results are shown under Q9 in Table 1.

Of those who respond with one of the 1-5 codes in Q5 and one of the 0-6 codes in Q9 (just ignore the small DKs), 53.7% changed their code response in the process either increasing it or decreasing it. Only 46.2% stayed with the same code. But the size of the difference between those who went lower, 37.4%, and those who went higher, 16.3%, is only 21.1% . So the gross change was 53.7% of the total qualified sample while the net change was much smaller at 21.1%, a ratio of 2.5 to 1.

Debate Format
Q10 introduces one of the many variations of the debate format, whose usefulness and characteristics ATI has studied extensively over the years, although there is much still to be learned18. In Q10 respondents are asked once more to rate the seriousness of Y2K, again using the 0-to-6 scale, but this time to do so after they are exposed to some balanced arguments, as to why experts (some of whom have incentives to minimize the seriousness of Y2K and others are incented to maximize it) might not be frank about how they really felt about the likelihood of these scenarios. A debate format can be defined as a question-set that includes re-asking an earlier "favor-or-oppose" type question after respondents have been exposed to pro and con arguments on the question.

In the change between Q9 and Q10, the gross change (the percentage of the total sample that changed their rating, either up or down) was 23.7% of the sample and the net change was a mere .9%, a ratio of 27 to 1 for relative size of the gross to net change. This illustrates a characteristic of the debate format, that the gross to net change ratio is typically very large, which led ATI to a theory of "dynamic equilibrium"19 on many subjects about which the public has, in a sense, come to judgment. If one just relied on the tiny change in percent responses for each code (scale category) as well as the tiny change in the average rating and did not cross-tab Q9 and Q10, the extent of shifting both ways, up and down the scale, would have remained unnoticed.

Unlike most previous cases where the "debate format" has been used by ATI, respondents were not required to respond to each argument with some evaluation (typically how convincing each argument is – although many others have been used as well). If people are not required to think about each argument, one might imagine that they may not be absorbing and reacting to them much. If this were the case and each argument in Q10 was tested separately, Q10 might have produced even higher values of gross or net change or both.

Demographic Highlights
Remarkably, there is less than an 8% departure from the overall 3.2 average of seriousness in Q5 to be found among the 39 demographic categories, shown in the table, which, it should be noted imply 691,200 combinatorial possibilities.

Number of Categories
Political party identification
5
Geographical region
4
Urban, Suburban, Rural
3
Age
5
Gender
2
Age/Gender
4
Income
3
Education
4
Computers make life better/worse
3
E-mail user
2
Heard/Not Heard of Y2K
4

In Q9 and Q10 three categories peel slightly further away from the average. Low income (<$25k) and life-with-computers "not better" rate seriousness 10% above average and post-graduates rate it 10% lower.

Elites' Perspective
Elites seem to have trouble believing that "their kind" (upper income, better educated) could produce an extremely serious Y2K disaster. Those who expect Y2K to be extremely serious are 50% more dense in the population which lacks a college or post-grad degree than those who hold a degree. Those who think the extremely serious scenario is very likely are almost three times as dense in the income under $25k category, than those whose incomes exceed $50k and are twice as dense among those who believe the computer has made life worse. These results vary little with the three ratings of seriousness, Q5, Q9, and Q10.

Conclusions
The most significant and obvious outcome of asking about seriousness three different times is that there are relatively few differences between the responses in the three cases, as shown in Table 1. As we have seen, between major demographic groups there are few differences as well. In all three cases, measured by either mean or median, people clustered around the rating of "3", which is, simultaneously: the experts’ "serious" scenario and the midpoint of the 1-5 scale. Furthermore, on a net basis, adults are almost unswayed by the arguments of Q10. In all cases respondents clustered around the mid-scale "3", with average a little higher, 3.2, initially and a little lower, 2.89, in Q9 and 2.90 in Q10.

When hearing how serious the experts consider serious, the public rates itself lower on the scale and is not ready to express quite as much pessimism as the more pessimistic experts. Between Q5 and Q9, the mean dropped a little. Table 2 suggests it will be the case, since 48% say "not-at-all-likely" to the extremely serious scenario, by far outnumbering the 18% who say "very likely". The experts’ scenarios, on balance, are believed a little too bleak.

Another interesting difference is that 8% claimed they were off the experts’ scale: 3% chose the "zero option" and 5%, the "six option". After hearing the arguments challenging the reliability of the experts’ view as given in Q10, only a total of 4% still wanted to place themselves at the extremes and off the experts scale. There seems to be no obvious reason why this should be so.

A Serendipitous Minor Error
This paragraph describes what could be considered a minor design "mistake" not asking the two questions Q6 and Q8 in random order, but rather in numerical order (Q6 always first). The mistake actually leads to an interesting insight on how the public is really reacting to these questions. The correlation between those "very likely" in Q6, Q7, and Q8 and the ratings these three groups give in Q9 should be greater. At the high end, those who think the "extremely serious" scenario is "very likely", do in the later question Q9 have an average score close to "extremely serious". At the low end, those who think the "not-at-all serious" scenario is "very likely" do not have an average score in Q9 close to "not-at-all serious", that is "1", but on average they rate themselves much higher at "2.96". The explanation of this discrepancy is to be found in the numerical order of asking the questions, Q6, Q7, Q8, and NOT in random order. The very first scenario people heard, the not-at-all serious, apparently seemed to be quite serious to people, many of whom may have never before heard any other scenarios. After they had heard the next two much more serious scenarios, they recalibrated where they should fit on the experts scale – many not quite as negative as the experts, but now aware that the "not-at-all serious" scenario, is only not-at-all serious because the other scenarios are so much more serious. Those, on the other hand, who answered "somewhat" or "not at all likely" for the "serious" scenario could have been thinking either that Y2K problems would be more likely or less likely. Table 1 shows that there are significant shifts in both directions. The only number that is out-of-line and would probably have come into line if Q6 and Q8 had been asked in random order is the 2.96 average Q9 score of the "very likely" in Q6.

Who Can You Trust on Y2K?

Master Questionnaire, Q11-18,

In the coming months, you will probably hear a lot more about Y2K. I am going to read a list of people and ask you to think about this: If you happened to see or hear that person discussing Y2K issues, how much would you be inclined to trust what he or she said about this issue? If you’ve never heard of a person, just let me know and we’ll move on to the next one.

Half-sampled, asked in random order, ranked by "some" + "a lot" of trust:

Table 3 – Trust in 16 Players, ATI #30
Ranked by "a lot" + "some" Trust
R
a
n
k
Players
a lot + some Trust
A lot
Some
Hardly
None
Never heard of
DK
1
A computer expert working for a large corporation with years of experience including programming many kinds of old computers – computers that worked fine for years but now may have millennium bugs
89%
51%
38%
9%
<1
<1
1%
2
A computer expert based at a university
85%
37%
49%
10%
1%
1%
2%
3
A computer expert working for a large corporation
85%
36%
49%
10%
2%
1%
2%
4
Bill Gates, head of Microsoft
80%
42%
38%
14%
2%
4%
1%
5
A computer expert working for the federal government
72%
22%
50%
21%
4%
1%
1%
6
The US military
69%
22%
46%
25%
6%
<1
1%
7
Your local bank manager
66%
17%
49%
23%
7%
2%
2%
8
An expert in handling natural disasters
63%
20%
44%
28%
7%
1%
1%
9
Consumer activist, Ralph Nader
62%
22%
41%
18%
6%
13%
2%
10
An expert in why people in a disaster sometimes cooperate and sometimes do not
62%
12%
50%
27%
5%
2%
3%
11
The leader of a multi-billion dollar financial services company
61%
16%
45%
28%
8%
1%
2%
12
Former President George Bush
61%
18%
42%
29%
8%
1%
2%
13
Bill Clinton
54%
14%
39%
33%
11%
1%
1%
14

Former presidential candidate, Ross Perot

49%
13%
37%
34%
15%
1%
1%
15
Al Gore
49%
12%
37%
36%
10%
2%
2%
16
Newt Gingrich
42%
7%
35%
38%
13%
5%
2%
Analysis

Table 3 summarizes the findings of 16 individuals and organizations (in this analysis called "players") tested in random order for trustworthiness. The most highly trusted players on Y2K are logically enough computer experts of different sorts. The highest scoring player, ranked by trusting "a lot" or "some" at 89% is one "working for a large corporation with years of experience including programming old computers that worked fine for years but now may have millennium bugs". The lowest scoring at 72% is a computer expert working for the federal government, somewhat below a computer expert at a university (85%) or at a large corporation (85%). Bill Gates, head of Microsoft comes in at 80%.

Other players scoring fairly well and closely bunched are the US military at 69%, your local bank manager at 66%, an expert in natural disasters at 63%, consumer activist Ralph Nader at 62%, an expert in why people in a disaster sometimes cooperate and sometimes do not at 62%, and the leader of a multi-billion dollar financial services company at 61%.

Political leaders as a group came in lower still with former president George Bush at 61%; then Bill Clinton at 54% ; former presidential candidate Ross Perot at 49%; Al Gore at 49%; and Newt Gingrich, trailing the pack at 42%.

Some points should be made about the political leaders selected for this (and a later) question. The qualifier "former president" required to distinguish him from his son, the governor of Texas, might also have raised his score a bit. It may also be important to note that the field work was completed on August 9th, prior to the August 17th presidential "confession". Al Gore is widely considered as the administration’s technology expert. According to a Newsbyte story, Gore is looked to by the people as the administration's point man and expert on all technology issues. At least on Y2K this is refuted by the low trust he garners in this survey.

The rule that covers these relationships seems pretty clear and not at all illogical: Computer experts as a group are more trusted on Y2K than a pack of corporate leaders and non-computer experts, and the latter in turn are more trusted than top national leaders.

Who Should Be Held Responsible? Accountable? Legally Liable?

Master Questionnaire, Q19-Q24

If Y2K turns out to be a big disaster, who do you think should be held responsible for that disaster? I am going to read the names of some people and organizations. For each one, please tell me how much responsibility you think that person or organization would have for a Y2K disaster. After each item, if respondent indicated that individual bore any responsibility at all they were asked two follow-up questions: "Should he/they be held accountable?" and "Should he/they be held legally liable?"

Table 4 – Responsibility of 12 Actors,
ATI #30 Ranked by "a lot" + "some" Responsible
R
a
n
k
Actors
Responsible
Account-able
Legally
Liable
a lot + some
A lot
Some
None
Depends
DK
1
Computer companies that ignored the Y2K problem for years.
94%
70%
24%
5%
1%
1%
79%
61%
2
Computer companies
89%
54%
35%
10%
<1
1%
66%
44%
3
Leaders of large corporations, banks, electric utilities, etc.
77%
40%
37%
21%
1%
1%
59%
42%
4
The Federal Reserve Board, which oversees our banks.
75%
38%
37%
24%
1%
1%
56%
41%
5
The SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, whose job is to hold corporations accountable to stockholders and the public.
75%
36%
39%
22%
1%
3%
54%
36%
6
The US Congress
67%
29%
38%
32%
<1
1%
45%
25%
7
The media which did not make the situation clear enough to viewers and readers.
65%
25%
41%
33%
1%
<1
39%
18%
8
Bill Clinton
59%
23%
36%
39%
1%
1%
35%
17%
9
Television, which focused on entertainment and ratings, rather than real news.
51%
20%
31%
48%
1%
1%
28%
15%
10
Newt Gingrich
36%
8%
29%
57%
1%
5%
21%
11%
11
Al Gore
34%
10%
23%
61%
1%
4%
18%
10%
12
Ross Perot
19%
5%
13%
76%
1%
4%
9%
8%

Respondents who asked what "accountable" means were read "accountable means required to make a full disclosure on Y2K involvement." Respondents who asked what "legally liable" means were told "laws including fines and imprisonment to punish people who are guilty of causing Y2K problems."

A group of twelve individuals and organizations (in this analysis called "actors") were tested in random order (see Table 4) by asking respondents, "If Y2K turns out to be a big disaster, how much should these people be held responsible?" A respondent replying "some" or "a lot" was then asked "should he/they be held accountable? and then further asked "should he/they be held legally liable?. Again, computer companies headed the list with 54% of adults saying they would have "a lot of responsibility" and 35% saying, "some". When the qualifier was added: "computer companies that ignored the Y2K problem for years" the numbers shot up to a near unanimous 94% responsible, 79% accountable and 61% legally liable, the only one of the twelve actors tested that a majority of adults holds legally liable.

Following the computer companies in culpability, the actors thought most responsible are, "leaders of large corporations, banks, electric utilities, etc.," at 77%; "the Federal Reserve Board, which oversees our banks" at 75%; and "the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, whose job is to hold corporations accountable to stockholders and the public", at 75%. These three groups found majorities in favor of their being held accountable, but only minorities thought they should be legally liable.

Political leaders are thought to have responsibility with the top leaders having the most. Congress itself scores at 67%, "a lot" plus "some" responsibility; Bill Clinton is next at 59%; then Newt Gingrich at 36%; Al Gore at 34%; and Ross Perot at 19%. Also two industries were among this group: "The media which did not make the situation clear enough to viewers and readers" at 66%; and "Television, which focused on entertainment and ratings, rather than real news" at 51%. This whole group was thought to be accountable only by 45% or fewer, and legally liable by 25% or fewer.

Demographic Highlights
There was little demographic variation on the solid agreement over the culpability of "computer companies that ignored the Y2K problem for years". Exceptions are two sectors more punitive than the average; 90% of post-grads say hold them "accountable" and 67% of those with high school or less say "legally liable."

In both the "media" and "TV" questions, those with incomes less than $25k were 50% more likely than those with incomes over $50k to hold them accountable and twice as likely to hold them legally liable. Perhaps poorer people are expressing feelings of greater powerlessness under the assault of the media than those more affluent.

Accountability
Although accountability is a very useful tool of governance, it seems to be seldom asked in public polls on policy issues. If a person or organization is responsible for some behavior that needs to be curbed then the sanction which is associated with legal liability, fines or imprisonment, are often treated as if nothing else suitable was available. Accountability is a very useful sanction in handling such diverse issues as corporate conformity with Securities and Exchange Commission reporting regulations, holding big tobacco to advertising and promotional standards, and curbing sexual behavior abuses in government at the highest political levels (with or without perjury). It worked very well in this survey.

What You Can Do

Government Initiatives

Master Questionnaire, Q25-Q26

Thinking about other preparations for the year two thousand:

QA25. Retired computer programmers have been asked to register with the Labor Department’s job bank. Currently, this job bank has many job openings for people to work on Y2K problems, but very few applicants. Applicants can register through the World Wide Web. If you knew of, or met, a retired computer programmer, would you:

QB25. Some experts have suggested that the more people know and prepare themselves, the less Y2K’s impact will be – just as with preparedness exercises for civil disaster. Let me read a couple of things that President Clinton has recently asked all Americans to consider. The President has asked retired computer programmers to register with the Labor Department’s job bank. Currently, this job bank has many job openings for people to work on Y2K problems, but very few applicants. Applicants can register through the World Wide Web. If you knew of, or met, a retired computer programmer, would you:

Would you...
Sample A
Sample B
Recommend the person consider such a job
45%
53%
Recommend that he or she not consider such a job
4%
5%
Neutral
51%
40%
Don't Know
1%
2%

 

QA26. A New National Campaign for Year 2000 Solutions has recently been announced by the government. If you happen to have, or learn of, a new idea for solving the Y2K problem, would you contact this campaign — or would you not bother?

QB26. If you happen to have, or learn of, a new idea for solving the Y2K problem, would you contact the New National Campaign for Year 2000 Solutions, whose formation was recently announced by the President to encourage people to come up with new ideas, or would you not bother?

 
Sample A
Sample B
Would Contact
68%
70%
Would Not Bother
25%
26%
Depends [VOL]
4%
2%
Don't Know
2%
1%
Refused/NA
1%
<1

Analysis

There is significantly greater (consensus level) support among the people for submitting ideas for alleviating the seriousness of Y2K to the federal government than to recommending that a retired computer programmer "you knew of or met" consider a job to work on Y2K problems through the Labor Department's job bank. Both of these ideas were presented publicly by the President on July 14, 1998 at an address to the National Academy of Sciences. Mention of his support in the B-sample raises favorability to the first item by 8 points and to the second by only 2 points. The President's involvement produces significantly more support for the use of the job bank, but only a minor difference in the call for Y2K solution ideas.

Individual and Community Initiatives

Master Questionnaire, Q27-Q30

I’m going to read a few things that people can do that might help solve the Y2K problem. For each one, please tell me if you have ever done that activity. (IF HAVE NOT DONE, ASK:) Would you consider doing something like that, or would you probably never do anything like that?

Findings are presented in rank order of "have done" plus "have not done, would consider doing it." All are half-sampled except the top ranking, "Ask a local bank . . ."

Table 5 - What You Can Do To Mitigate Y2K
R
a
n
k
Activity
Done or would consider
Have
done
Would
consider
Would Never
consider
D
K
1
Ask a local bank manager, insurance carrier, mutual fund or financial advisor what steps they are taking to protect your assets and property from Y2K problems.
74%
13%
61%
22%
4%
2
Ask your electric utility or water company, if it can assure uninterrupted consumer service in the year two thousand.
63%
4%
59%
33%
4%
3
Ask a local or state official what community-wide assessments have been made or plans prepared for Y2K.
53%
5%
48%
43%
5%
4
Purchase emergency supplies, generators, batteries, canned food, medical kits to deal with a disaster caused by Y2K.
49%
10%
39%
46%
4%
5
Ask your Congress person, what Congress is recommending at the federal government level for Y2K.
43%
3%
40%
52%
5%
6
Volunteer in your local community to join in or organize a Citizen's Committee on Y2K to work with local officials and media.
39%
2%
37%
57%
4%
7
Purchase a home system offering self-reliant power supplies such as solar panels, cell phones, and two-way radios — to deal with a disaster caused by Y2K.
36%
8%
28%
58%
6%

Analysis

Seven actions that individuals can take that might help solve the Y2K problem are rated in Table 5. When asked in random order, the top scoring action, with 74% saying they "have done" or "would do" this (as opposed to "never would do it"), is "Ask a local bank manager, insurance carrier, mutual fund manager or financial advisor what steps they are taking to protect your assets and property from Y2K problems." Almost as highly supported at 63% is "Ask your electric utility or water company, if it can assure uninterrupted consumer service in the year two thousand." Fewer would consider asking a local, state, or national official what they were doing on Y2K. "Your local or state official" scores at 53% and "your Congress person" at 43%.

Self-help also ranks lower, "Purchase emergency supplies, generators, batteries, canned food, medical kits to deal with the disaster caused by Y2K" scores at 49%. "Purchase a home system offering self-reliant power supplies such as solar panels, cell phones, and two-way radios" scores at 36%.

It is important to note, however, that between four and twenty million adults say they have already done all of these things, and significant minorities, amounting to between 56 and 122 million adults, would consider doing all seven actions.

Will It Become "Every Man For Himself?"

Master Questionnaire, Q31-Q32

Thinking about what may happen in the year two thousand.

Q31. Do you think that at some point as the Y2K situation develops, many, some, or very few people will react according to the old saying, "Every man for himself"?

Many
36%
Some
33%
Very Few
27%
Depends [VOL]
2%
Don't Know
2%
Refused/NA
<1%

Q32. How likely is it that at some point YOU would behave according to the old saying "Every man for himself"? Is it (READ CODES 1-4)

Very Likely
11%
Somewhat Likely
21%
Somewhat Unlikely
23%
Very Unlikely
42%
Depends [VOL]
2%
Don't Know
1%
Refused/NA
<1%

Analysis

In order to ask about behavior like "every man for himself", the survey neutralized the inherent gender bias of this phraseology, with the expression behaving "according to the old saying, every man for himself". When asked about others behaving this way, 36% think "many" would, 33% think "some" would, and 27% think "very few" would, 2% volunteer " it depends" and 2% DK. When asked if "at some point YOU would behave that way?" results were: "very likely", 11%; "somewhat likely", 21%; "somewhat unlikely", 23%; and "very unlikely", 42%, with depends volunteered at 2% and DK 1%. Clearly, respondents tend to balk at ascribing to themselves as much self-centered behavior as they attribute to others. It will be interesting to see how these figures will change as the build-up to Y2K continues in the next year or so.

Demographic Highlight
The gender difference in the responses to these questions is interesting. The men who say "many" would behave according to "the old saying every man for himself" were 32% of all men, while only 14% of men say that they themselves would at some point "very likely" behave that way. The corresponding numbers for women are 39% and 8%. Women thus tend to have a more negative view of others' behavior and a more positive view of their own. The percentage ratio in the two cases are 2.3 to one and 4.8 to one.

Eight Propositions are Put on the Table for Mitigating Y2K

Master Questionnaire, Q33-Q37

Because Y2K appears to many as a disaster in the making, people may come forward and make propositions about what can be done to make things better. I will read some of these propositions you might hear. For each one, please tell me if you agree or disagree with it. (IF AGREE/DISAGREE, ASK:) Would that be STRONGLY agree/disagree or just SOMEWHAT agree/disagree?

Table 6 – Propositions to Mitigate a Y2K Disaster
Ranked by "strongly agree" + "somewhat agree"
R
a
n
k
Propositions
Total
Agree
Agreement
Neither/
DK
Disagreement
Strong
Some
what

Some
what
Strong
Total
1
Simpler, more decentralized back-up systems for production, accounting, and communications, should be maintained so that your community can retain more options and be more self-reliant.
90%
48%
41%
3%
6%
2%
8%
2
We should reshape the laws governing our telecommunications industry to assure that our radio, television, the Internet and all other mass media operate in the public interest and are required to inform the public fully about such issues as Y2K.
80%
54%
26%
3%
9%
7%
17%
3
Companies which innovate computer technologies should prepare voluntary social impact assessments and publish them, so that the public can understand the tradeoffs in such new technologies before they become widespread and displace existing systems.
80%
45%
35%
4%
8%
7%
16%
4
The modern world has become too dependent on computers and other complex technologies.
72%
48%
25%
2%
12%
14%
26%
5
We can no longer only rely on private enterprises making profit-driven market decisions ABOUT technological innovations that change the basic fabric of our lives.
63%
24%
39%
4%
18%
16%
34%
6
The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment used to evaluate large-scale technological innovations for their social impact and release results to Congress and the public. This office was abolished in 1996, but the Y2K problem shows that this was a mistake. The office should be reinstated.
61%
28%
33%
9%
17%
13%
29%
7
The government should keep its hands off the technological revolution that is improving our standard of living in so many ways.
58%
29%
30%
4%
22%
16%
38%
8
We should beef up funding of Public broadcasting and other educational TV and radio networks to provide more programming in the public interest supported by a tax on commercial broadcasting to be used only for this purpose.
58%
28%
30%
4%
18%
21%
38%

All questions were asked of half samples except for #4 and #7 each asked of the whole sample.

Eight propositions, coming out of grass roots and policy organizations, for making Y2K less disastrous were tested in random order. All find substantial majorities in agreement (ranked by strongly plus somewhat agree in Table 6). Four are supported at consensus levels.

It is worth noting that political leaders, typically inclined to simplify and dumb down policy proposals, seem very unlikely to mention, let alone propose and promote any of these eight. The public, on the other hand, has already shown that it can deal with more precise and carefully worded proposals than political leaders offer, as in the Q11-Q18 trust series, in the Q19-Q24 responsibility series, and the Q25-Q30 what-you-can-do series of this survey. But the Q33-Q37 group of eight propositions are of particularly excellent quality and are well-handled by the public.

Of the eight propositions in Table 6, the top five require government initiatives and new laws - yet not only are they popular among the people, they also are the top-rated five among Democrats and, with a minor exception, among Republicans (See Table 7): 90% agree that simpler back-up systems (to computer's) should be maintained; 80% agree that laws should assure that our mass media and the Internet operate in the public interest and be required to inform people about issues such as Y2K; 80% agree that companies which innovate computer technologies should publish voluntary statements on their impact on society; 72% agree that the modern world has become too dependent on complex and computer technologies; while 63% agree that "We can no longer only rely on private profit-driven market decisions ABOUT technological innovations that change the fabric of our lives." With a balancing question, the core belief of staunch technology and business supporters, "The government should keep its hands off the technological revolution that is improving our standard of living in so many ways," although approved by a majority, tied for LAST place and ranked 5th with Republicans!

The ever more rapid advance of technology has led to more complex and more truly global products and services, more complicated and sophisticated marketing and business arrangements, and more pressure on everyone in commerce to meet the host of new challenges these bring forth. The multiplying ramification of these developments place more demands and require more effort from various levels of government to oversee, evaluate, regulate, and adjudicate these activities in order to protect the weaker, more vulnerable and underprivileged segments of our society, as well as consumers, small businesses, and the environment from the powerful and entrenched giant corporations and industries. The tendency to reduce the role of government, particularly at the national level, is at odds with all of these developments. In Table 6, the only proposition that reflects the growing tendency to reduce the government’s role in regulating technology is tied for last place. The political parties should rethink their ideologies, programs and concepts to get them more in tune with political reality and with what the public knows is needed. To make the point clear, stark, and compelling to party leaders, Table 7 shows the support of rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats for the eight propositions.

This finding adds Y2K to the many issues that ATI has tested which find national political leaders polarized far beyond their own rank-and-file party members, and beyond that, with the leaders offering and enacting measures that totally ignore what the public most wants to solve real problems. The disconnect between leaders and people is as alive and well as ATI has been finding it for over ten years.

Perhaps this is why Americans are already taking actions to solve Y2K at the grassroots and individual levels.

Table 7 - Propositions To Mitigate a Y2K Disaster
Ranked by Agreement of Republicans and Democrats
R
a
n
k
Propositions
Total
Agree
Republicans
Deomocrats
Rank
Total
Agree
Strongly
Agree
Rank
Total
Agree
Strongly
Agree
1
Simpler, more decentralized back-up systems for production, accounting, and communications, should be maintained so that your community can retain more options and be more self-reliant.
90%
1
90%
48%
1
90%
41%
2
We should reshape the laws governing our telecommunications industry to assure that our radio, television, the Internet and all other mass media operate in the public interest and are required to inform the public fully about such issues as Y2K.
80%
3
75%
46%
2
82%
59%
3
Companies which innovate computer technologies should prepare voluntary social impact assessments and publish them, so that the public can understand the tradeoffs in such new technologies before they become widespread and displace existing systems.
80%
2
83%
47%
3
82%
47%
4
The modern world has become too dependent on computers and other complex technologies.
72%
4
67%
42%
4
77%
53%
5
We can no longer only rely on private enterprises making profit-driven market decisions ABOUT technological innovations that change the basic fabric of our lives.
63%
6
56%
18%
5
71%
34%
6
The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment used to evaluate large-scale technological innovations for their social impact and release results to Congress and the public. This office was abolished in 1996, but the Y2K problem shows that this was a mistake. The office should be reinstated.
61%
8
46%
22%
6
70%
36%
7
The government should keep its hands off the technological revolution that is improving our standard of living in so many ways.
58%
5
66%
35%
8
52%
21%
8
We should beef up funding of Public broadcasting and other educational TV and radio networks to provide more programming in the public interest supported by a tax on commercial broadcasting to be used only for this purpose.
58%
7
48%
19%
7
69%
34%

 

Endnotes

1. "Year 2000 Bug? What's That?" Newsbytes Magazine, Framingham, MA, 6/12/98, by Craig Menafee.

14. Locating Consensus for Democracy -- a Ten-Year U.S. Experiment, by Alan F. Kay, Americans Talk Issues Foundation, 1998. Toll free 888-887-0101, fax 904-826-4194. See pages 16, 71-75, 81 that explain the value of serial polling.

15. Ibid., See pages 387 and Endnote I5 that explains the use of the word "consensus".

16. Ibid., See pages 43-44, 45-47 on the significance of "volunteered" responses.

17. Ibid., See pages 42-46 on the significance of "don't know", "no answer", "refused", "not sure", etc., all of which are considered "DK".

18. Ibid., See pages 53-58 on the many uses of the debate format.

19. Ibid., See pages 143, 216-217, 308, and 367 on coming to judgment and dynamic equilibrium.