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NSF News

Embargoed until 6:00am, EDT
News - November 24, 1999

NSF SP 99-05
Media Contact:  Bill Line  (703) 306-1070
Program Contact:  George Strawn  (703) 306-1950

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Poll Shows Declining Concern over "Y2K"

Worry over Air Travel and Water, Gasoline Stockpiling Rise

With only 38 days until the new year, Americans report they are even less worried now about Year 2000-related computer problems than they were three to nine months ago, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The nationwide telephone poll, conducted in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USA Today, surveyed 1,010 adults between November 18 and 21. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

"These poll results continue to show that a well-informed and educated public is better able to understand the consequences of 'Y2K' and make decisions for themselves and their families," said George Strawn, NSF's Computer Networking Division Director. "This poll is further evidence that as the public's knowledge and awareness of 'Y2K' has risen over the past 11 months, Americans' level of worry or concern has declined," Strawn added.

The NSF-commissioned poll is the fourth of its kind conducted since December 1998. Polls were also conducted in March and September, 1999. All four polls ask the same questions in order to discover any trends or track changes in the public's attitudes regarding "Y2K."

A full 90% of those polled this time say they have seen or heard "some or a great deal" about the Year 2000 computer issue, or "Y2K," which arises from computers that are improperly programmed to comprehend a computer's date field correctly.

Other significant findings from the November poll include:

  • only three percent of Americans (down from seven percent in August) now think major problems will result due to Year 2000 computer mistakes.
  • more than four in ten adults polled (41%) now believe "Y2K" computer problems will last "only a few days around January 1, 2000." This is up from only 15% who held this view in December, 1998. 51% of respondents (down from 56% in late August and 67% in March) now say "Y2K" effects may last from "several weeks" or "from several months to a year."
  • 55% of those polled (up from 43% in August) say they will avoid travelling on airplanes on or around January 1, 2000 while the November poll found a leveling off of a downward trend (34% now from 35% in August, 43% in March and 46% last December) in respondents believing air traffic control systems will fail, putting air travel in jeopardy.
  • the November poll found a continuous downward trend from 63% in December, 1998 to 38% now in the percentage of those polled who believe banking and accounting systems will fail, possibly causing errors in employee paychecks, government payments or other automated financial transactions.
  • more Americans, however, say they will obtain special confirmation or documentation of their bank account balances, retirement funds, or other financial records, (58% in November up from 51% in August).
  • slightly more than one-quarter (down from 36% last December) say city or county "911" communications systems will fail, possibly putting citizens at risk.
  • a greater percentage of Americans say they will stock up on gasoline than before (28% now, up from 21% in August).

Despite previous media accounts that some Americans are preparing for food delivery or water systems to fail, the updated November poll found:

  • more than 9 out of 10 respondents say they will not withdraw all their money from the bank; however, 25% say they will withdraw and set aside a large amount of cash.
  • a slight rise (40% now, up from 36% in August) in the number of Americans who say they will stockpile food and water, and an evening off in the number (13% now, 14% in August) who say they will buy generators or wood stoves.
  • less than one-third (32%) now believe (compared to 40% in March) food and retail distribution systems will fail, causing grocery and other store shortages.

NSF is an independent federal agency with an annual budget of about $3.9 billion, primarily used in support of fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering, as well as wide-ranging education programs. NSF funds reach all 50 states, through grants to more than 2,000 universities and institutions nationwide. NSF receives more than 50,000 requests for funding annually, including at least 30,000 new proposals.


NOTE TO ALL MEDIA: For copies of the November, 1999 poll questions and response rates, call Bill Line at NSF's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, (703) 306-1070, or check NSF's website at after 9:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 1999.

NOTE TO TELEVISION REPORTERS/PRODUCERS NOTE: For Beta SP videotape copies of poll-related B-roll items and soundbites from Dr. George Strawn, call Bill Line at (703) 306-1070. Copies are available for courier pickup or next-day delivery via Federal Express.


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