Only 13 percent of Americans believe in all Ten Commandments. Most workers admit to goofing off for about seven hours a week, and almost half say they regularly call in sick when they're not. Ninety-one percent of us lie regularly, at work and at home.
But Americans can still tell the truth when no one's watching or listening. That, at least, is the assumption of "The Day America Told the Truth," a new book based on an extensive opinion survey that gave participants a guarantee of anonymity.According to the survey, one in five Americans say they lost their virginity before they were 13. One in six adults say they were physically abused as children, and one in seven say they were sexually abused. Twenty percent of women say they were raped by their dates. A third of AIDS carriers have not told their spouses or lovers.
"There's a lot of bad news," says James Patterson, who wrote the book with Peter Kim, a fellow executive at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency.
During one week late last fall, more than 2,000 people chosen randomly gathered at 50 sites around the nation. They were paid $5 or $10 and spent about 90 minutes answering 600 to 800 questions out of the 1,800 in the survey that applied to them. They completed the forms in privacy and dropped them unsigned into a locked box.
"We tried to replicate the ritual of the confessional or the voting booth," Kim said.
The poll has a margin of error of 2 percent to 4 percent.
"The Day America Told the Truth" is troubling on several fronts.
Marriage: Nearly 50 percent say there is no reason ever to get married, 31 percent of married people are having or have had an affair, and 47 percent aren't sure they would marry the same person if they had it to do over again.
Community: Seventy-two percent don't know their next-door neighbor. Seven in 10 say there are no American heroes.
Crime: Six in 10 say they've been victims of major crimes. One in seven carries a gun or has one in his or her car. Two-thirds favor capital punishment; a third would volunteer to throw the electric chair switch. And 7 percent say that for $2 million they would commit murder.
The poll's findings clash with those of many telephone polls, which place the rate of such things as child abuse and illegal drug use somewhat lower.