Public-Interest Polling

ATI #32 Highlights

The Third Survey on Y2K
in the ATI Y2K Series

October 30-November 3, 1999; N=1000 Adults
Conducted by Market Strategies, Inc.
Southfield, Michigan
Frederick T. Steeper

By Alan F. Kay, 11/19/99

© 1999, All Rights reserved

ATI #32 Full Report

About half of Americans, age 18 and over, believe that computers have made their own lives better, according to both the current survey (ATI #32, November, ’99) and the previous one six months earlier (ATI #31, April, ’99). The other half has negative or mixed feelings or say “not affected” by computers. (Note, we can expect considerably more than fifty percent to respond that computers have been good for the country.)


A record high, 76% up from 72% say that they have heard a lot about Y2K.


A record high, 7% up from 6%, consider themselves an expert in Y2K.


[Q4 not asked]

How serious will Y2K be? (1= not at all and 5= extremely serious. Use any number from 1 to 5). The average response on this 1-to-5 seriousness scale has dropped over the three surveys as follows: 1st, 3.2; 2nd, 2.6; 3rd, 2.2. For the first time a majority (66%) chose “1” or “2”, and only 8% said “4” or “5”.

[Q6-9 not asked].

The percentages of people who will do the four “take-care-of-number-one” actions (i.e. centered on the individual’s own needs) that have been asked by Gallup and tested in ATI#31 and #32 conform to the reasonable expectation that the lowered concern for Y2K has reduced the need for those actions. The percent who “probably will do” these actions has dropped in each case (except for air travel around 1/1/00) and the “probably will not do” have increased.


TRUST battery – 13 items, 6 in this survey: 5 re-asked, 1 new. Small increases since last April in trust of corporate types and experts. Most trusted: Bill Gates, 83%; computer experts 83%; local bank manager 79%; disaster experts, 67-72%. Trust in front-runners: George W. Bush 55%, Al Gore 46%, both a little lower than former President Bush tested in the two earlier surveys at 61-62%, but within the range of Bill Clinton tested earlier at 49% (post-Monica). DKs negligible for whole battery (3% or less).


[Q17-18 not asked]

RESPONS battery – 14 items, 8 in this survey: 6 re-asked, 2 new. If Y2K turns out to be a big disaster, only 3 persons/organizations judged legally liable by majorities. Along with their accountable, responsible percentages they are:

1. “computer companies that ignored Y2K for years” (60% legally liable)

[accountable, 76%; responsible, 91%]

2. “corporate leaders who lobbied a bill through Congress and the Administration that limits liability for corporations if they fail to meet commitments because of unfixed Y2K problems” (55% legally liable)

[accountable, 69%; responsible, 85%]

3. “computer companies” (51% legally liable)

[accountable, 70%; responsible, 91%]

The top of the list ,#1, also topped the list for all three surveys, with little change in responsibility, accountability, and liability. #2 is a new item that received considerable media attention over the summer. Its high ranking demonstrates the appropriateness of its inclusion in this battery.

Here is a minor but interesting point:

The SEC was believed less legally liable than the Fed both in the 1st survey (by 5 points) and in the 2nd survey (by 10 points) and each received substantial legal liability increases from the 1st to the 2nd surveys: SEC by 6 points, Fed by 11points. The Fed item was not repeated in the 3rd survey. The SEC item was. It scored 1 point higher. If the pattern held up, and previous survey experience implies very likely it would, it is fair to say that a majority would in November have judged the Fed legally liable too, and it would have probably scored 4th, or possibly higher, in the above list.

Congress and Bill Clinton were each found legally liable by only minorities in all three surveys. A new item is John Koskinen, the only one of the 14 in the RESPONS battery where a specific description of circumstances for probable and substantial liability is given. Possible cause for liability, in terms of the office he holds and the responsibility it implies, were described with a more negative spin than that given to any of the other 14 persons and organizations. This negative spin, it turns out, gives John a better assurance that he will not likely be subjected to successful scapegoating by his boss than would have been implied by a less negative spin. By the three measures of liability, accountability, and responsibility, John scores very close to Clinton but a little lower on all three. The public is considering him as the President’s stand-in or mouthpiece, somewhat less culpable than the President, even if the specific advice he proposes were to prove totally inadequate and extremely damaging to millions of people.

If the oracle at Delphi was as good as legend has it and still around, she might say:

If Y2K is not really bad, John will be well positioned for higher office. If it is really bad, his head is less likely than other heads to roll.

Congratulations, John.


YOU DO – 6 items of activities that “you can do” to mitigate the effects of Y2K on yourself, your family and your community; 3 in this survey, 2 re-asked identically, 1 modified. Of the two items re-asked identically, it is clear that the `Have Done’s and the `Would Never Consider’s both have increased at the expense of the `Would Consider’s. This is logical because time is getting short and more people have made up their minds on what they will do and not do about Y2K, especially for a relatively simple action like “asking a bank manager”. The time for “going to a meeting”, which was so popular last April, has past. Meetings, as attractively described as we were able to do in the 2nd and 3rd surveys, turned out to be a bit of a failure.

Only 1% more have gone to such a meeting today than last April, when 7% said they had already done so. Over the same time interval 19% fewer say they would consider it. This means that out of a random hundred persons in April, there were 59 who said they would consider going to a community meeting with local officials & Y2K experts discussing mitigating of Y2K effects and listening to the public’s ideas. By November only 1 of them had done so and 18 others said they no longer would consider it. Perhaps there were not enough such meetings. A thought is that many, many more persons have participated in talk-radio and call-in shows on Y2K in the intervening six months, and this may have taken care of some of the need. Perhaps the following is true: When it comes to spreading to a large population, like the 260 million in the US, important detailed ideas in a few months time, this may no longer be the age where it can be done successfully by face-to-face meetings. Meetings do not reach enough people. This is the age of broadcast media, radio, the Internet and TV.

QA29 was reworded to make clearer the distinction between the simpler things to do to prepare a household for Y2K and the more self-reliant, proactive things to do expressed in QB29. The increase by 11 points in the `Have Done’s for QA29 during the six months intervening between the 2nd and 3rd surveys, much larger than the increases for the two questions asked identically, suggests that the new wording allowed some people to comfortably assert that they have already “done that”. This wording change is the way QA29 should have been asked in the first place.


When confronted with will it become “every man for himself”, people are quite pessimistic, not that they themselves will fall into that behavior pattern, as we saw in the 2nd survey. But consensus numbers (71% for the 3rd, 79% for the 2nd, and 69% for the 1st survey) say at some point some or many will react that way!


People are a bit more positive about the President calling out the National Guard in the 3rd survey than the 2nd.


PROPS battery– 12 items, all 12 re-asked, none new. Seven of these 12 proposals, are agreed to by percentages in the range 71% to 86%. They are the only consensus proposals (> 67%) among the 12, and this is true of the same seven proposals both in the most recent (3rd ) survey and the earlier (2nd ) survey. The bottom scoring 5 items were all supported by majorities in the range 54% to 60% in the 3rd survey and in the range 53% to 63% in the 2nd survey. There was some shifting in the less supported group of five as follows. The two conservative proposals, both beginning with, “…government should keep its hands off the technological revolution….” moved from the bottom of this narrowly dispersed group up to the top! The mood of the country is slightly more favorable to technology and free-markets, and slightly less favorable to responsibilities accompanying rights than was evident in the two earlier surveys. The shifts are small enough to depend solely on the public’s current view of Y2K as less serious than in the earlier surveys. If there are no other major events in the next few months relevant to these most basic ideas: technology, free market, responsibilities-with-rights there is little doubt that where the public will come out with regard to them will depend on how bad Y2K is. If Y2K is really a “5”, then there is no doubt in my mind that these anti-technology, anti-free-market, pro responsibilities-with-rights sentiments will be much stronger; if it is a “1”, much weaker. Will the top seven lose consensus support? Will the bottom five loose majority support? That we cannot know. But a 4th survey should establish where this settles out next year, providing that a “5” does not mean that it is impossible to do surveys in year 2000.


Click on Demographic Breakouts to learn how significant and useful analyzing the data gathered on a large number of demographic groups proves to be for determining the public’s interest. These analyses can teach something important and not well understood even by avid political poll-watchers and pundits. Also included is a preview of how, when the fourth Y2K survey of the ATI series is complete sometime in 2000, we will use demographic data from all four to track the evolution of the Y2K reactions of whatever demographic sectors depart in significant and interesting ways from the public at large over the lifetime of this unique, Y2K event.

ATI #32 Full Report