Avoid Black Cats? Walk Around Ladders? Are Americans Superstitious?

New York , N.Y. – February 27, 2014 – Do you walk around a black cat or always throw spilled salt over your shoulder? Just how common are beliefs in certain superstitions many Americans grew up hearing from parents and grandparents? Surprisingly, not as common as one might think. There is the childhood phrase see a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck but just one-third of Americans (33%) believe finding and picking up a penny is good luck. Much has been made in Hollywood about having the groom and bride avoid each other before the wedding because it’s bad luck, but only one-quarter of Americans (24%) believe in this old wives’ tale.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll¨ of 2,236 adults surveyed online between January 15 and 20, 2014.

Looking at some other common superstitions:

  • The phrase is Lucky seven, but just 23% of Americans believe that seven is actually a lucky number;
  • Just one in five (21%) say they believe that knocking on wood prevents bad luck;
  • Most walk right under it, as just 20% believe it’s unlucky to walk under a ladder;
  • Go ahead, open it is the motto for most, as only 14% of Americans believe opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck;
  • It can happen a few times a year, and for the 14% who believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, they must be wracked with fear when it arrives;
  • It definitely brings a lot of clean-up, but only 14% of U.S. adults believe that breaking a mirror also brings seven years bad luck;
  • Spill away, as just 13% of Americans say throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder prevents bad luck;
  • There’s probably a white patch somewhere, is what the 13% of U.S. adults who believe a black cat crossing their path to be bad luck may think when it happens;
  • Whether it is a Friday or not, just 12% believe the number 13 is unlucky; and
  • Almost all Americans go ahead and step on it, as only 7% believe stepping on a crack is bad luck.

Some are more superstitious than others

Younger Americans tend to be a more superstitious lot. One-third of Echo Boomers (32%) say it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding, compared to one-quarter of Gen Xers (24%), just one in five Baby Boomers (20%) and 14% of Matures. They are also more likely than their older generational counterparts to believe knocking on wood prevents bad luck (29% vs. 20%, 16% and 13% respectively) and breaking a mirror brings seven years bad luck (19% vs. 15%, 9% and 8%).

Looking at a gender difference, women are more likely than men to believe that finding and picking up a penny is good luck (37% vs. 29%).

There are also some political differences, with Democrats a little more superstitious than Republicans. Democrats are more likely than both Republicans and Independents to believe that seven is a lucky number (28% vs. 20% for both). They are also more likely than Republicans to believe opening an umbrella inside is bad luck (17% vs. 11%) and that a black cat crossing their path is bad luck (16% vs. 10%).

One’s religious affiliation also shows a bit of a difference on superstitions. Catholics are more likely than Protestants to say knocking on wood prevents bad luck (27% vs. 20%) and breaking a mirror brings seven years bad luck (21% vs. 13%). Catholics and Protestants, however, are both much more likely than Atheists and Agnostics to believe finding and picking up a penny is good luck (40% and 35% vs. 16%) and that seven is a lucky number (26% and 24% vs. 10%).

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TABLE 1

ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS?

For each of the following, do you believe this or not?

Base: U.S. Adults

Yes, I believe

No, I don’t believe

Finding and picking up a penny is good luck

%

33

67

It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding

%

24

76

Seven is a lucky number

%

23

77

Knocking on wood prevents bad luck

%

21

79

It’s unlucky to walk under a ladder

%

20

80

Opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck

%

14

86

Friday the 13th is an unlucky day

%

14

86

Breaking a mirror brings seven years bad luck

%

14

86

Throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder prevents bad luck

%

13

87

A black cat crossing your path is bad luck

%

13

87

13 is an unlucky number

%

12

88

Stepping on a crack is bad luck

%

7

93

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 2

ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? – by Generation and Gender

For each of the following, do you believe this or not?

Percent saying Yes, I believe

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Generation

Gender

Echo Boomers (18-36)

Gen X (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Finding and picking up a penny is good luck

33

34

31

32

36

29

37

It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding

24

32

24

20

14

22

26

Seven is a lucky number

23

25

25

23

17

24

23

Knocking on wood prevents bad luck

21

29

20

16

13

17

24

It’s unlucky to walk under a ladder

20

22

20

19

17

20

20

Opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck

14

20

16

11

7

13

15

Friday the 13th is an unlucky day

14

19

14

12

8

13

15

Breaking a mirror brings seven years bad luck

14

19

15

9

8

13

14

Throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder prevents bad luck

13

17

15

8

9

11

14

A black cat crossing your path is bad luck

13

16

15

10

7

13

12

13 is an unlucky number

12

16

13

11

7

13

12

Stepping on a crack is bad luck

7

12

7

5

3

7

7

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 3

ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? – By Political Party Religion

For each of the following, do you believe this or not?

Percent saying Yes, I believe

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Political Party

Religion

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Catholic

Protestant (net)

Atheist/ Agnostic

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Finding and picking up a penny is good luck

33

34

36

31

40

35

16

It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding

24

21

27

23

31

25

17

Seven is a lucky number

23

20

28

20

26

24

10

Knocking on wood prevents bad luck

21

20

22

20

27

20

18

It’s unlucky to walk under a ladder

20

20

22

20

26

22

12

Opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck

14

11

17

14

18

15

12

Friday the 13th is an unlucky day

14

15

16

12

18

15

7

Breaking a mirror brings seven years bad luck

14

13

14

14

21

13

9

Throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder prevents bad luck

13

11

14

13

18

11

6

A black cat crossing your path is bad luck

13

10

16

11

17

14

4

13 is an unlucky number

12

12

16

9

15

14

9

Stepping on a crack is bad luck

7

7

9

6

8

8

3

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 15 and 20, 2013 among 2,236 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll¨ #20, February 27, 2014

By Regina A. Corso, SVP, The Harris Poll and Public Relations Research

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.