Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Prediction is difficult, especially when it involves the future

In late 1949, a Gallup Poll asked people about their predictions for the next 50 years.


Do you think there will be another world war during the next 50 years, or not?
Yes—81%, no—11%, don't know—7%

Do you think a cure for cancer will be found?
Yes—89%, no—7%, don't know—4%

Do you think trains and airplanes will be run with atomic power?
Yes—64%, no—21%, don't know—15%

Do you think men in rockets will be able to reach the moon or the planet Mars?
Yes—16%, no—69%, don't know—14%

Do you think people in this country will go to church more often or less often than they do now?
More—40%, less—31%, same—22%, don't know—7%

Do you think labor unions in this country will become stronger or weaker than they are now?
Stronger—45%, weaker—33%, same—15%, don't know—8%

Another Gallup Poll conducted at the same time asked about some other possibilities:

Do you think the number of working hours per week for the average person will be cut down to about 30 hours—or do you think that the number of hours will stay about where it is today?
Cut—47%, same—39%, don't know—14%

During the next 50 years, do you think that most of the nations of the world will have a democratic government like the U. S., a Communistic government like Russia, or a socialistic government like England?
Democratic—54%, communistic—7%, socialistic—11%, other—3%, “no code or no data”--24%

Do you think a woman will be elected President of the United States at any time during the next 50 years?
Yes—31%, No—59%, Don't know—9%

During the next 50 years, do you think that the government in Washington will own and run  …. the railroads in the U. S.?
Yes—37%, No—43%, Don't know—20%

...the banks.
Yes—28%, No—53%, Don't know—18%

….the big industries, like auto, steel, etc.
Yes—24%, No—57%, Don't know—18%

By my count, that means the majority was right on six and wrong on six, which doesn't seem too bad. 

PS:  The "reach the moon or the planet Mars" is a classic example of poor question design.  I'm surprised they didn't notice that.    On the prevailing form of government, they didn't show a "don't know" category.  I'd guess that "no code or no data" is mostly people who said they didn't know. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

America and Britain

In 1973, the United States Information Agency sponsored a survey of British elites concerning their views of the United States and Britain. It included seven types of elites: government, arts, academics, media, student organizations, business, and labor. I thought that there might be large differences among the groups—for example, business would be more favorable to the United States, arts or academics would be more critical. But although there were some differences, they weren't very striking. The comparison of general views of the nations was more interesting. The survey asked how successful each nation was in providing different things, on a scale ranging from 1 (“very successful” to “not successful at all”). The differences between the average ratings, with positive numbers meaning that Britain was seen as doing better than the United States:

1.51 'taking care of its sick people'
1.24 'rights of its minorities'
1.06 'minimizing drug addiction'
1.03 'peaceful means for changing social conditions'
1.02 'taking care of its poor people'
1.22 'maintaining law and order' 
  .50 'taking care of its old people'
  .35 'good quality education' 
  .35 'minimizing environmental pollution'
  .24 'jobs for everyone who wants to work'
  .18 'full educational opportunities for most people'
  .02 'adequate standard of living for most people'
  .01 'encouraging full development of the arts'

-.32 'stable economy'
-.66 'opportunites for personal career advancement'

It also asked how well certain pairs of terms described British and American societies:
for example, “class conscious” versus “classless,” with the scale ranging from 1 to 7.
The ratings:

2.81 'non-violent'
2.48 'stable'
2.44 'cooperative'
2.22 'law-abiding'
1.86 'disciplined'
1.72 'tolerant'
1.43 'non-materialistic'
.66 'permissive'

   .00 'non-conformist'
-0.10 'innovative (vs. imitative)'
-0.18 'ideological (vs. pragmatic)'
-1.42 'classless'
-2.52 'dynamic'

For example, British elites saw the term “non-violent” as more descriptive of Britain than the United States, and “dynamic” as less descriptive of Britain than the United States. The words in parentheses are the opposing term when it isn't obvious.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas shopping guide (slightly outdated)

In December 1958, a Gallup Poll asked "If you could have your choice, what one present would you most like to have for Christmas?"  About 14% didn't know, said that there was nothing, or didn't answer.  About 7% named some kind of general improvement in their living standards ("lots of money," "a job"), and about 6% said a new house or apartment. Other popular choices: 

New car                                       14%
Clothing                                      11%
Large appliances (e. g., a stove)              8%
Electronics                                    7%
Furniture, home furnishings                    6%
Sporting/Hobby equipment                       4%
Jewelery                                       2%
Small appliances (e. g., sewing machine)       2%
Vacation, trip                                 2%

What struck me was how practical most people were.  Even most of the things I've counted as sporting/hobby equipment might have some practical value--the group includes 27 people who said "tools," compared to two who said golf clubs.  "Jewelery" includes 24 who wanted a watch, compared to only two who wanted a bracelet, and one who wanted pearls.  Of course, there were a few dreamers:  one person want an airplane. 

People were also remarkably centered on their homes.  No one mentioned anything related to dining out or entertainment, except for five who said "a good meal."

This question, or similar ones, have been asked a few times since then, but I haven't looked at them in enough detail to compare them. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Of a certain age

A 1958 Gallup poll asked  "at what age . . . a woman reaches the peak of her beauty."  Answers ranged from 15 to 75, with an average of 29.9.  Yes, but there was a big difference between the opinions of men and women, right?  Not really--women gave an average answer of 30.1 and men gave an average of 29.6.  The difference is not statistically significant. 

It also asked "at what age does a person reach the peak of his mental ability"?  Answers ranged from one to 83, with a mean of 39.4.  Here, there was a difference between men and women--women gave an average of 37.8, and men an average of 41.1. When I was younger I might have been able to think of a plausible explanation for this difference, but now I'm coming up blank.

There were a few other questions about ages:  when middle age begins (average of 43.9 years), when old age begins (65.3), when an unmarried man should be described as a bachelor (33.8), and when an unmarried woman should be described as a spinster (32.4).  For all of them, women chose a slightly (but significantly) higher average.