Public-Interest Polling

ATI #31 Highlights

"Y2K Raises Fundamental Questions About
the Social Responsibilities of Government and Business
When Technology Goes Awry"

APR 22-26 1999; N=1001 Adults
Conducted by Market Strategies, Inc.
Southfield, Michigan
Frederick T. Steeper

Survey Directors: Alan F. Kay and Hazel Henderson
June 1999
© 1999, All Rights reserved

ATI #31 Full Report


This was already in evidence in ATI #30, August 3-9, '98. Now it may be an understatement. Look at SIX NEW FINDINGS:

Unprecedented Public Approval of Government Authority to Hold Businesses Responsible

1. 88% agree (66% strongly): "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."

JQ Public Fears Technology is Out of Control

2. 88% agree (52% strongly): "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."

3. 73% agree (52% strongly): "The modern world has become too dependent on computers and other complex technologies."

People Want Truth in Corporate Disclosure of Technology Impact

4. 86% agree (46% strongly): "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."

Public Accepts Extensive Government Regulation of Free Markets

5. 57% agree (29% strongly): "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."

6. 60% agree (28% strongly): "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."

Many propositions of all kinds for mitigating Y2K were tested in this survey. The six above blasted the conventional wisdom of our political leaders and our mainstream news media. They were all fairly introduced without bias with this preamble:

"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 the propositions you might hear. For each one please tell me if you agree or disagree with it."

These and other pro-active propositions had enormous support. The strongest conservative propositions scored at the bottom of the list:

54% agree (26% strongly) "The government should keep its hands off the technological revolution that is improving our standard of living in so many ways."

With the following sentence added, support drops slightly:

53% agree (24% strongly) "The government should keep its hands off the technological revolution that is improving our standard of living in so many ways. That is much more beneficial and important to us than the cost of whatever damage Y2K may do. "


Growing Support for Holding Leaders Accountable Who Duck Y2K Liability.

In almost every one of the 10 cases asked in both polls, percentages holding individuals and organizations responsible, accountable, and legally liable are higher in the new poll. The public is in a process of bringing Y2K responsibility into focus.

Biggest increases for "a lot+some" responsibility: the Congress up 14% to 81%; Clinton up 10% to 69%; leaders of large corporations up 9% to 86%; the Fed up 8% to 83%, SEC up 7% to 82%; Gore up 6% to 40%; television up 5% to 56%.

Biggest increases for "should be accountable": the Congress up 14% to 59%; the Fed up 10% to 66%; leaders of large corporations... up 7% to 66%; SEC up 6% to 66%; Al Gore up 5% to 23%; computer companies up 4% to 70%; Clinton up 3% to 38%; TV up 3% to 31%.

Biggest increases for "should be legally liable": the US Congress up 11% to 36%, the Fed up 11% to 52%; computer companies up 7% to 51%, leaders of large corporations... up 7% to 49%; SEC up 6% to 42%, Clinton up 5% to 22%; TV up 5% to 20%

Top Ranking Accountable and Legally Liable, Now at consensus-levels accountable and majorities for legally liable: computer companies that ignored the Y2K problem for years (79% accountable, 64% legally liable) and computer companies (70% accountable and 64% legally liable). Further majorities accountable: leaders of large corporations..., 66%; the Fed, 66%; the SEC 60%, the Congress, 59%.

Assigning Responsibility Generically. Four concepts of generic responsibility for Y2K were tested:

(77%) hold that "government and business leaders who were aware of the problem but failed to exercise LEADERSHIP in getting it fixed are responsible for it and should be held accountable."

(62%) hold that "whoever played a part in CAUSING the Y2K problem is responsible for it and should be held accountable."

(50%) agree "The situations is so COMPLEX and so many have played a role in causing or failing to fix the problem that no one and no group should be held responsible for the consequences."

(48%) agree "We are all EQUALLY to blame, no one and no group should be held responsible for the consequences."

It is worth many billions of dollars to business to have one or both of the lower scoring views predominate. The public comes out on the other side of this question.


Increase in awareness of Y2K

There has been a remarkable increase in how much people have heard about Y2K since Aug. '98. "A lot" response has gone from a 45% minority to a 72% supermajority.


Increase self-reliance for public dealing with Y2K alone;

The number of Americans who have done each of the following has generally doubled since last August. About fifty-two million Americans now have asked a local bank manager, insurance carrier, mutual fund or financial advisor what steps they are taking to protect their assets and property. Twenty-four million have asked a local or state official what community-wide assessments have been made or plans prepared for Y2K. Twenty million have asked their electric utility or water company if it can assure uninterrupted consumer service in the year 2000.

Most people have given up on Congress. The number who have asked their Congress member what Congress is recommending at the federal level on Y2K has stagnated at about 6 million.

Public preparations go beyond just "asking". Thirty-eight million, almost double the number of last August, say now that they have purchased emergency supplies, generators, batteries, canned food and medical kits to deal with a disaster caused by Y2K. Those who are still considering doing these and other things to prepare for whatever Y2K may bring number in the range of thirty to hundred million persons. This is almost as large as the fifty to 118 million group who say they would never consider doing those things, (which is about the same size as the group who said "never" last August).

The biggest interest in doing something? Fourteen million say they have already attended a public meeting with Y2K experts and officials to hear what the government is doing about Y2K and how experts are assessing Y2K matters. Now 118 million others say they would consider going to such a meeting. Most of them want a chance to voice their own concerns and make suggestions to the assembled group.


There has been a sharp drop in expecting Y2K to be extremely serious, but a rising concern for failing social cohesiveness.

Eight months earlier those who thought Y2K was going to be "very serious" compared with "not serious" was 36% vs. 28%. Now that has completely reversed: 48% vs 14% favor "not very serious". There is a greater realization, up from 69%, now 79% consider it "very or somewhat" likely that some or many would react at some point according to the old saying "every-man-for-himself". When asked if they themselves would behave that way, only 29% thought that they would, down from 32% in the 1st poll.


Run well-publicized public meetings where all can hear experts/officials and talk to each other.
59% would go.

The government has a hidden resource, if it can figure out how to use it:

11.2 million, who consider themselves experts in Y2K, breaking out as:

4.8 million expert in "ways of coping with Y2K,"

4.4 million expert in "how computers and software handle dates",

4.0 million expert in "likely consequences and effects of Y2K".

Public wants straight talk on Y2K from officials even when they are in doubt

Among these three (multiple choices allowed), leaders should:

(73%) "Explain the doubt as completely as they can even if they have to get a little into what is normally considered boring detail",

(70%) "Make sure the public knows how serious failure to complete the fixes could be,"

(42%) "Try to be reassuring"

Call out National Guard as necessary but they had better be prepared.

Three reactions to the President calling out the National Guard:

58%: "the Guard would reassure people and help prevent an increase in crime.

25%: "the Guard is not prepared or trained enough, and might do more harm than good".

16%: "widespread deployment of the Guard would infringe on our civil rights".

If the Guard is to be called out, 62% favor advance training and preparation, 33% are opposed.

Who the public trusts on Y2K

The most trusted ("a lot + some") now are various computer experts, with trust ranging from 72% to 86%, down a few points from the earlier poll. Disaster experts and business leaders remain in a middle group, with trust ranging from 64% to 72%. Politicians remain least trusted as a group in the range 47-63%. with Gore down 2%, Clinton down 5%, Bush (Sr.) up 1%.

ATI #31 Full Report