60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: Advice

How do we sift through the thousands of "helpful" advisers out there? Americans weigh in on the subject of advice

Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll for November 2016. This month’s poll is all about advice. To seek advice from someone is to seek counsel or guidance on how to address or manage a situation or an issue. It can sometimes be daunting to find good advice in the age of 24/7 Internet access and especially in the realm of social media. So how do we sift through the thousands of “helpful” advisers out there? Maybe the old fashioned way, by confiding in a trusted friend, colleague or a member of your family or your clergy. If you could give one piece of advice to your teenaged self, what would it be? We look forward to your responses to this and other questions and to one and all we wish you a most Happy Thanksgiving. And now, the results of our poll. 


1) By more than a 2-to-1 margin, Americans say they generally tend to give more advice than they receive. They must have forgotten what their mom may have told them, “You have one mouth and two ears now please remember to use them in those proportions.” But now in this brave new world of nonstop social media we are barraged from all sides by would be advisers and “influencers” as recently reported on by 60 Minutes. Endless offers of advice on what products to use, what to wear and so on. Your mom would also tell you that before you act on all of that “free” advice, remember that you get what you pay for.


2) From the list provided, one out of three Americans think that no matter how much advice they could give to someone, the most difficult thing would be to prepare them for going to prison. Next in order were, having their first child (30 percent), getting married (26 percent), and eating an oyster (five percent). It would be very difficult to prepare anyone for their first time in prison, but despite their complexities, getting married and having a baby are wonderful yet common events experienced by a majority of Americans. But how about eating an oyster? They are highly prized and widely enjoyed now, but centuries ago it was Jonathan Swift who observed, “he was a bold man who first ate an oyster.”


3) Twenty-three percent of Americans said they find it hardest to live by the advice “do unto others...” found in the “Golden Rule,” next in order were mom’s sage advice “if you don’t have something nice to say..” (22 percent), Ben Franklin’s aphorism on frugality “a penny saved..” (19 percent), “stand up for yourself” (14 percent), Roman poet Horace’s entreaty to “seize the day” (12 percent) and the friendly warning that “two martinis is enough” (six percent).


4) When it comes to the worst place to look for advice, 44 percent of Americans pointed to their daily newspaper and said it was their horoscope, 23 percent went online and on record to say the Internet, 16 percent called in and answered a radio talk show, six percent said going home to ask mom and dad, five percent picked seeking guidance from their boss and two percent said their therapist. It seems that everywhere you look these days advice is being dispensed wholesale.


5) So where do Americans turn to most often for political advice? Twenty-five percent said they tune in to TV news pundits and commentators, 24 percent speak with friends and family, 15 percent refer to political websites, 10 percent rely on historians, six percent watch comedians and only two percent chose pollsters. The challenge and some might say the obligation to Americans is to find a way to do their civic duty and learn enough so they might live up to Thomas Jefferson’s famous observation that “the cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.”


6) Talk about being put on the horns of a dilemma. If warned by a stranger not to get on a flight, 37 percent would fly away on another flight, 25 percent would get on the plane and laugh it off as a flight of fancy, and 20 percent said they would board the plane, be a nervous wreck, and take off on a wing and a prayer. Men would be a little more willing than women to laugh it off (31 percent vs 20 percent) but this would be a tough predicament for even the coolest of fliers.


7) CBS This Morning has a great feature where well-known people write a note to their younger selves. In our open-ended question of the month, we ask Americans, if they could give just one piece of advice to their teenaged self, what would it be? Here are some of our favorite responses. Some are very practical such as, go to college, stick to the Bible, practice birth control, buy life insurance and sell for cash. Others are cautionary for example, stay away from boys, everything has a consequence, keep your mouth shut, be cautious of the people around you and this beauty, life is tough and more tough if you’re stupid. Some are very self specific such as, break up with your boyfriend, don’t take drugs for pain, listen to mom and listen to your dad sooner than in your 20s, while others exhort themselves to be more daring by advising their teenaged selves to take more risks, move to Canada and have more sex. Some are even prophetic such as, it gets better so hang in there.