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

Most Americans actually do not believe in any of 12 common superstitions

NEW YORK, Feb. 27, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- 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.

Harris Poll Logo.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,236 adults surveyed online between January 15 and 20, 2014. (Full results, including data tables, available here)

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%).

To view the full findings, or to see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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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

Press Contact:
Corporate Communications
The Harris Poll
[email protected]

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SOURCE The Harris Poll

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