60 Minutes/Vanity Fair: Superstition

What offers the best glimpse into the future? Find out what Americans think about that and more in this month's poll

Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll for February 2015. This month's poll revolves around superstitions and how prevalent they are in American life. Whether they come in the form of omens, rituals or prophecies, superstitions are often beliefs or actions that are inconsistent with science.

People from all walks of life -- like athletes, gamblers, fishermen, performers or even grandmothers -- perform actions that they think might bring them good fortune. They use charms, sayings and talismans to promote good luck or amulets and rituals to protect against bad luck. They are derived from centuries of a collected cultural folklore that makes our melting pot so fascinating. How superstitious are you? We look forward to your answers, and now the results...

"Jinx!"

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Fifty-four percent of Americans say they are not superstitious at all. Twenty-two percent said they are "not too," 20 percent said "somewhat" and four percent crossed their heart and hoped to die that they were very superstitious. A majority of Americans seem to agree with Stevie Wonder and his song, "Superstition:" "when you believe in things you don't understand, then you suffer, superstition ain't the way..."

Famous Quote

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Three out of 10 Americans didn't have to be a genius to guess that it was Albert Einstein who said, "God doesn't play dice with the universe." It was his way of saying that he did not agree with the randomness inherent in the theory of quantum mechanics. One out of four admitted they did not know who said it. The remainder was split between two saints and two sinners, Mother Teresa 14 percent, Pope John Paul II 13 percent, Nick the Greek 12 percent and the Cincinnati Kid seven percent.

What makes sense

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It's pretty much a dead heat with 46 percent saying the Theory of Evolution is less logical and 45 percent choosing the Theory of Creationism. Sixty-four percent of Republicans went with Evolution and 60 percent of Democrats said Creationism resulting in a virtual tie and a split ticket.

Numbers

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Forty-five percent of Americans think there should be a row 13 on a plane just like any other row. Thirty-seven percent said that having a 13th row doesn't fly and 18 percent said it should always be an exit row. Some airlines omit the 13th row just like some office buildings skip having a 13th floor. In the very unlikely event that a plane goes down, the number of the row someone is sitting in will be the least of their worries.

Superstitious Behavior

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Just because a majority of Americans say they are not superstitious doesn't mean they don't do superstitious things. Eighty-five percent admit to saying "God bless you" which started as a custom when the first indication of having the Plague was a sneeze. Sixty percent said they "knock on wood" which is said to have originated with people seeking protection from evil from spirits that lived in trees. Fifty-six percent admitted they make a birthday wish which is said to come true if you blow out all the candles on your cake in one breath and keep the wish secret. The smoke from the candles was supposed to take your wish to heaven. Finally 43 percent said they crossed their fingers -- a custom that may have been employed secretly by early Christians to invoke the power of the cross to help protect them.

Mealtime Meaning?

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In ancient times, salt was a valuable commodity enhancing the taste and preservation of precious food and spilling it was considered to be a bad omen. Today, only seven percent of Americans think that knocking over the salt shaker at dinner is still a bad omen while a whopping 92 percent say it's just a clumsy accident and take it with a grain of salt.

Star-crossed

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While he is not technically a person, 43 percent of Americans think that Wile E. Coyote has to be one of the unluckiest characters of all time. Every one of his best laid plans to catch the elusive Road Runner fails. Another unlucky character with 34 percent was Captain Edward Smith who lost The Titanic to an iceberg on her maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. More star-crossed than unlucky were first baseman Bill Buckner nine percent and Shakespeare's doomed young lovers Romeo and Juliet nine percent.

Foresee the Future

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When it comes to predicting the future, 22 percent of Americans think their horoscope offers the most believable guidance. Next up with 18 percent is a dream dictionary which helps to analyze dreams,12 percent said a fortune cookie which offers sweet words of wisdom or a prophecy and 11 percent chose a psychic reading, an attempt by a clairvoyant (or not) to give people personal guidance or advice. One out of three Americans don't find any of the choices to be believable.

Best Outcome

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When their hopes finally and unexpectedly become reality, 26 percent of Americans chalk it up to a happy coincidence and another 26 percent consider it to be a miracle. Next in order were good luck 23 percent and Karma 21 percent. People who identify themselves as being religious are more inclined to describe it as a miracle and those who don't tend to view it more as a coincidence, good luck or Karma. It is written that good fortune by any name is most welcome.

Very Superstitious

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Bet you can't guess which group won. Forty-three percent of Americans picked Gamblers and the crazy collection of rabbit's feet, four leaf clovers and other lucky charms they use to increase their odds of winning. Next up as most superstitious with 22 percent were grandmothers (where do you think the term "old wives tale" originated?). Athletes got 21 percent for the elaborate rituals they perform to help them gain an edge on their competitors and, despite their well-known eccentricities, fishermen caught only 10 percent of the vote.

Black cats

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Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) chose the origin story that black cats were considered bad luck because they were associated with witches in the Middle Ages. Next in order were the black cat legends ascribed to Ancient Egyptians 18 percent, Irish Fishermen 12 percent and Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo 11 percent. When religious zealots began to kill black cats in Europe, it wasn't long after that the Plague which was spread by rats and mice started to proliferate.


This poll was conducted by telephone from Dec. 3-7, 2014, among 1,016 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus 3 percentage points. The error for other subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Poll.

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