50 Years in the Making: Harris Poll Data Uncovers the Events Most Americans Wish they Witnessed

Neil Armstrong Walking on the Moon Takes Top Honors; Bikini Named Best Fashion Trend of Past Five Decades

Nov 19, 2013, 05:00 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, Nov. 19, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- With all the major events going into the history books over the past 50 years, which do Americans most wish they could have witnessed firsthand?  That's what the Harris Poll set out to find out on the eve of its own 50th birthday.

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According to results of the Harris Poll of 2,003 U.S. adults surveyed online between November 4 and 6, 2013 by Harris Interactive, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon is the single event from the past 50 years that the highest percentage of Americans wish they could witness. (Full results, including data tables, full lists of events by decade and breakdowns by age and gender, can be found here)

In addition, U.S. adults were asked their thoughts on the best (and worst) fashion trends from the past 50 years. The bikini was Americans' top choice for the best addition to wardrobes, with 31% choosing the itsy bitsy item.  

"We thought a retrospective on the events people most wanted to witness over the past 50 years was in order as the Harris Poll celebrates 50 years of polling," said Mike de Vere, president of the Harris Poll. "While we expected some of the more historically significant occurrences to make the cut, there were some surprising findings when it came to which events people most would have wanted to witness."

When asked which event of the past 50 years they'd most wish to have witnessed firsthand, Americans chose:

  • Neil Armstrong walking on the moon (27%)
  • The fall of the Berlin wall (21%) which tied for with first place among 45-54 year olds
  • The "I have a dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (20%); a top choice for 18-34 year olds and women

In addition, results were broken down by decade. Interestingly, when asked specifically about the '60s, Dr. King's famous speech narrowly edged out the moon walk.

1960s: I Have a Dream vs. Man on the Moon 
When asked which event from the 1960s they would most want to witness, more Americans chose Woodstock (19%) over the first Super Bowl (11%). 

  • 22% of respondents chose the "I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - this was also the top answer among 18-34 year olds and 35-44 year olds
  • 21% chose the live broadcast of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon
  • 19% chose Woodstock Music Festival

1970s: GI's and Jedi's 
The Force remains as strong as ever, with the premiere of Star Wars ranking as the second most sought after event (19%) to witness in the 1970s behind witnessing the last Americans leaving Vietnam (21%). Additional findings include:

  • Watching Secretariat win the Triple Crown (12%)
  • Mother Theresa wins Nobel Peace Prize (12%)
  • Break-in at Watergate (11%)

1980s: "Tear down this wall!" 
Communism and The Cold War were top of mind with Americans in the 1980s with the fall of the Berlin Wall (27%) as the event of the decade.

  • Olympic fever shone through with the U.S. Hockey Team's "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics coming in as the second most popular event (17%) 
  • Discovery of the Titanic Wreckage and the Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana tied (12%)

1990s: Heeeeeeere's Johnny! 
While many events stand out from the 1990s including Princess Diana's death and subsequent funeral, the infamous OJ Simpson white Bronco chase and the launch of the Hubble telescope, the highest percentage of Americans would choose the final broadcast of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as the event they would most want to witness in the '90s.

  • Final broadcast of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (21%)
  • Hubble telescope launched into space (18%) (#1 for 18-34, tied for #1 among 35-44)
  • Princess Diana's funeral (16%) (in addition to women, also #1 for 45-54's)
    • Princess Diana's funeral was the number one choice among women overall (22%).

2000s: Making History 
The capture of Saddam Hussein was one of the biggest events of the 2000s with 25% of Americans claiming they would have wanted to witness it firsthand. Additional findings include:

  • Inauguration of Barack Obama (22%)
  • Red Sox winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years (13%)

50 Years of Fashion: Skin to Win 
In addition, respondents were asked what they thought were the best and worst fashion trends of the past 50 years. The bikini was far and away the top choice for best fashion trend, at more than two to one over the next trend, the mini-skirt (31% vs. 15%). Baggy pants and parachute pants nearly tied for worst fashion trend.

When asked the best fashion trend to come out of the past 50 years, Americans chose:

  • The bikini (31%)
  • The mini-skirt (15%)
  • Skinny jeans (13%)

And the worst:

  • Baggy pants (19%)
  • Parachute pants (18%)
  • Leisure suits (12%)

To see other recent Harris Polls, as well as the full lists of events for each decade (including breakdowns by age and gender), please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between November 4 to 6, 2013 among 2,003 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, Harris Interactive 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 Interactive 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 the Harris Interactive 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 Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #86, November 19, 2013

About Harris Interactive 
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