2012 Doomsday Poll Brings Out the Believers

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Last night, Jay Leno cracked a joke on The Tonight Show that, oddly, generated few laughs.

Commenting on TV shopping channels and the idea that you are more likely to be persuaded to buy junk late at night, Leno said, “I bought a 2013 Mayan calendar, I feel like such a moron.”

The audience’s reaction could be interpreted one of two ways — they were either fatigued of the “Mayan doomsday” nonsense (one would hope), or a large part of the 22 percent of the American public who actually believe the world is going to end in their lifetime attended Leno’s show. (Or the joke wasn’t that funny, sorry Jay.)

According to an international poll carried out by Ipsos Global Public Affairs on behalf of Reuters News, 22 percent of Americans believe they will experience some kind of Armageddon in their lifetime. When asked specifically about the idiotic notion that an ancient mesoamerican calendar can foretell doom, 12 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “the Mayan calendar, which some say ‘ends’ in 2012, marks the end of the world.”

SLIDE SHOW: Top 5 REAL Cosmic Doomsday Events of 2011

But it’s OK America, you’re not alone:

One in ten (10 percent) respondents in 21 countries agree ‘the Mayan calendar, which some say ‘ends’ in 2012, marks the end of the world’ – 2 percent strongly agree, 8 percent somewhat agree. The majority of world citizens (90 percent), however, disagree with this interpretation – 73 percent strongly, 16 percent somewhat. Two in ten (20 percent) of those in China are in agreement with the statement, followed at the top of the global list by 13 percent in each of: Turkey, Russia, Mexico, South Korea and Japan. Only 4 percent in Germany and Indonesia seem to believe the prophecy, joined by 7 percent in Great Britain, South Africa and Italy.Ipsos

The poll was conducted among 16,262 adults in 21 countries.

Does this survey really indicate some kind of thriving “doomsday” subculture? Has Roland Emmerich’s bad doomsday flick “2012″ bored its way into society’s psyche? Is the end of the world really nigh and only a small number of the populous privy to a warning about this heinous future event?

Actually, apart from the “Mayan doomsday prophesy” being wrong, if I had to go out on a limb, I’d argue that the Reuters poll is just reflecting a ‘normal’ proportion of doomsday believers versus skeptics in society. And despite what would appear to seem like a huge number of people that believe the world will end in their lifetime (or on Dec. 21 2012), they actually represent a similar portion of people who thought the world would end on previous (failed) doomsdays.

ANALYSIS: Doomsdays: Dubious and Deferred

For example, during a CBS poll in 1999 taken ahead of the much-publicized “Y2K bug” doomsday scenario, it was reported that 18 percent of Americans believed “major problems” would occur through computer errors when the year transitioned from 1999 to 2000. A Gallop poll taken ahead of the same event reported that 20 percent of Americans believed the 1999-2000 switch would cause major problems to them personally.

Y2K was a specific event based on a real problem in world-wide computing systems. A vulnerability in computer programming was to blame and concerns grew for the consequences of large numbers of computer systems crashing at the same time. Worries for the failure of power grids, air traffic control and military systems were just some of the secondary events that, according to a few doomsayers, could have caused global catastrophe.

The Mayan doomsday, however, is vastly over-hyped. The Mayan Long Count calendar’s 13th “Baktun” cycle ends on Dec. 21, 2012, and while many Central American states are looking forward to a huge party to welcome in a “new age,” there are a determined group of people trying to make a fast buck out of terrifying the world with their fake doomsday theories; selling books, website advertising and blockbuster movies on the topic.

To quote Erik Velasquez, an etchings specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the whole Mayan doomsday trend is nothing more than “a marketing fallacy.”

ANALYSIS: 2012 Doomsday is a ‘Marketing Fallacy’

Sadly, their ploy of peddling disinformation and bunkum to the masses seems to have worked, at least on 12 percent of the U.S. population — a number that is noticeably smaller than the proportion of Americans who feared for major problems in 2000.

The Reuters poll data also reveals that “people with lower education or household income levels, as well as those under 35 years old, were more likely to believe in an apocalypse during their lifetime or in 2012, or have anxiety over the prospect.”

Although this is an interesting poll, don’t go reading too much into it. It doesn’t represent the downfall of critical thinking or a crisis in society, it just represents the psychology of doomsday fears and the rich tapestry of modern culture. When you have an ancient calendar, superstition and innumerable options as to how the Universe may destroy our planet on a whim, there will be some people that buy into the fear.

And with this fear comes a price — usually $14 for a paperback at Barnes & Noble.

For more on the Mayan doomsday phenomenon, browse the Discovery News Wide Angle: “Will the World End in 2012?”

Image: Colored lights illuminate the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (Corbis)