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Embargoed until 6:00am, EDT
News - September 9, 1999 Horizontal Rule

NSF SP 99-03
Media contact:  Bill Line  (703) 306-1070  
Program contact:  George Strawn  (703) 306-1950

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Poll Shows Americans' Concern over "Y2K" Continues to Drop

Previous Worry Over Air Travel, Banking Subsides

As the end of 1999 approaches, Americans say they are less worried now about Year 2000-related computer problems than they were six to nine months ago, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The nationwide telephone poll, conducted in partnership with the National Science Foundation and USA Today, surveyed 1,014 adults between August 25 and 29. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

"We believe that a well-informed and educated public is better able to deal with and understand the consequences of 'Y2K,'" said George Strawn, NSF's Computer Networking Division Director. "Notice that as the public's knowledge and awareness of 'Y2K' has risen over the past six to nine months, its level of worry or concern has declined," Strawn added.

"This poll's timing is important since computer experts are looking for possible computer trouble on September 9, or '9-9-99,' as some computers may translate that date into a '9999' stop-program command," Strawn added.

The NSF-commissioned poll is the third of its kind done since December 1998. A second poll was conducted in March1999. All three polls ask the same questions in order to discover any trends or track changes in the public's attitudes regarding "Y2K."

Almost 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 August poll include:

  • over one-third of those polled now believe "Y2K" computer problems will last "only a few days around January 1, 2000," up from only 15% who held this view in December. 56% of respondents (down from 67% in March) now say "Y2K" effects may last from "several weeks" or "from several months to a year".

  • while 43% of those polled (down from 54% in March) say they will avoid travelling on airplanes on or around January 1, 2000, the August poll found a continuous downward trend (now 35% from 43% in March and 46% in December) in respondents believing air traffic control systems will fail, putting air travel in jeopardy.

  • the August poll found a continuous downward trend (from 63% in December to 48% 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.

  • slightly more than one-quarter (down from 36% in December) say city or county "911" communication systems will fail, possibly putting citizens at risk.

  • more than eight out of every 10 respondents say they are confident in all branches of the federal government and those government agencies' ability to upgrade and correct "Y2K" computer programs (up from 68% in December).

  • Americans' level of confidence, however, remained nearly unchanged (49% now, 48% in December) regarding their belief that foreign governments of other developed and industrialized countries will correct their own "Y2K" problem.

  • 75% (down from 81% in March) say they are not confident in Third World foreign governments or other less developed countries' ability to have upgraded their computer systems to prevent "Y2K" problems.

Despite previous media accounts that some Americans are preparing for food delivery or water systems to fail, the updated August 1999 poll found:

  • a slight drop (from 39% in March to 36% now) in the number of Americans who say they will stockpile food and water and a drop in the number (24% in March to 14% in August) who say they will buy generators or wood stoves.

  • a drop in the number of those who say they will obtain special confirmation of bank account balances, retirement funds or other financial records from 65% in December to 51% now.

  • nine 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.

NSF is an independent federal agency responsible for funding more than $3.5 billion annually of research and education in science and engineering.


NOTE TO ALL MEDIA: for copies of the August 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 a.m. September 9, 1999.

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

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