By Louise Lague Joanne Kaufman
September 19, 1988 12:00 PM

Is Bill Cosby really a nice person? Do blonds or televangelists have more fun? Should Charles and Diana call it quits? And what the heck is arugula? Yes, it’s that time again, when we hang back and let you, the readers, weigh in on the great and small questions of our time. For the 10th consecutive year, we polled our readers with the help of Audits & Surveys Inc., which contacted 1,000 of you, selected at random. This year we once again cover the pop-cultural waterfront, from whom you like for President to whether or not Michael Jackson should have kept his original nose. (Does anyone remember his original nose?) Herewith, a thumbnail sketch of popular American thought, mid-to-late year, 1988.

Which presidential candidate will get your vote in November, George Bush or Michael Dukakis? (Asked between Aug. 29 and Sept. 1)

By George, you think he’s got it. Two weeks after the Republican convention—and despite a nationwide frenzy of Quayle hunting—42 percent of readers said they’d vote for Bush, while 38 percent backed Dukakis (13 percent were undecided, 4 percent said they wouldn’t vote and 3 percent refused to reveal their choice). And yes, Virginia, there is a gender gap: Among male readers, Bush dominated, 48 percent to 32 percent; among women, Dukakis won, 41 to 39.

If you had to vote for Lloyd Bentsen or Dan Quayle for President, which would it be?

Faced with selecting one of the vice-presidential candidates to fill the Oval Office, readers picked Bentsen over Quayle by 46 percent to 32 percent. Men and women voted similarly.

Who is smarter: Mikhail Gorbachev or Ronald Reagan?

It’s like this: If you, Reagan and Gorbachev ever take a final exam in the same room, sit next to Gorbachev and cheat like mad. In the smarts sweepstakes, 45 percent hailed Mikhail, while 35 percent of you would want Reagan on your Trivial Pursuit team.

Okay, now for the really important stuff. Who’s cooler: Tiffany or Debbie Gibson?

Yo, gang! We thought you cared about this, but 38 percent of you hadn’t the faintest notion which teen rock starlet was more awesomer. Among those readers paying attention, 33 percent said Tiffany, America’s most famous shopping-mall chanteuse, was cooler. Twenty-nine percent went for Debbie.

On a scale of 1 (world-class sneak) to 10 (honest as the day is long), how much do you trust Mikhail Gorbachev?

Maybe you don’t quite have to count your fingers after shaking hands with him. On the other hand, since he got an average score of only 4.27, a lot of you clearly think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to count the silver after he leaves the dinner table.

Do you think Gary Hart has been faithful to his wife since the Donna Rice affair?

Give the guy a break, said 37 percent of you—surely the former Senator has finally, finally learned his lesson. Sure, tell us about it, said an equal number of doubters. We’re with the 26 percent who haven’t a clue. Back to you, Gary.

Do you believe George Bush knew about the arms-for-hostages deal?

In 1987, Irangate shook our faith. Apparently it’s still shaken. Seventy-five percent of you said George knew, while a mere 15 percent believe in his ignorance.

What is arugula, anyway?

We listed four choices, and we’re just a teeny bit proud to say that 24 percent of our readers, non-yups all, said they hadn’t the faintest idea. Twenty-two percent thought it was “the word chanted in the background of the old Top 40 hit ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight.’ ” The next most popular choices were “the name of Michael Jackson’s llama” and “a small island in the Caribbean.” (“It’s better in Arugula,” maybe?) Only 15 percent of you—and please don’t look so smug—correctly identified arugula as a hopelessly chic salad ingredient.

Should the sale of cigarettes be outlawed in the U.S.?

Ban those butts, said 28 percent. Sixty-nine percent of you, presumably smokers and the tolerant, thought people shouldn’t have to go abroad to puff.

Which one of the following people is the funniest?

We gave you five choices, and Robin Williams topped the laugh meter with 39 percent of the vote. Next came Eddie Murphy, close with 34 percent, then Steve Martin with 12 percent and David Letterman with 8 percent. Only 2 percent thought Geraldo Rivera was the funniest man in America.

If you could eliminate one of the following from the planet, which one would you most like to get rid of?

Good news for Geraldo, who scored much higher here than in the previous question. Seventeen percent of readers would like to see him deep-sixed, but that was only enough for third place, behind boom-box radios (23 percent) and car alarms that go off by accident (22 percent). Geraldo tied with smelly perfume ads in magazines and was deemed more expendable than watches that beep.

Who is your favorite male TV star?

Nice guys don’t always finish last. In fact, Bill Cosby has been finishing first for the last two years, but this time he’s tied with fellow prince Tom Selleck. Michael J. Fox moved up into second place.

Who is your favorite female TV star?

Maybe we should have prompted you—44 percent couldn’t seem to think of a soul. Poll devotees remembered to vote for Cybill Shepherd, who wins for the second consecutive year, and followed that up once again with Linda Evans. Angela Lansbury and Phylicia Rashad shared third place.

Which man has the best body in America ?

What some of you won’t do to keep peace at home! Nine percent of women favored the musculature of husbands or boyfriends over the impeccable pecs of Sylvester Stallone (8 percent) and Patrick Swayze (5 percent). Arnold Schwarzenegger beefed his way to the winner’s spot with 20 percent of the total vote, followed by Tom Selleck with 11 percent.

Which woman has the best body in America?

Our male readers’ eyes stray less than our women’s—11 percent of you guys voted for your own significant other. All those hours working out at Jack LaLanne seemed to pay off for Cher; 11 percent of those polled were moonstruck by her body. Raquel Welch and Loni Anderson will have to duke it out for second place (put down the barbells, belles) with 5 percent each. Joan Collins and Vanna White each weighed in with 4 percent. Jane Fonda, Christie Brinkley and Linda Evans were also-rans with 3 percent.

Will another Kennedy be President in the next 50 years?

Here’s further surprising proof that the dream of Camelot is not dead. Last year you named John Kennedy our most outstanding recent President and Jackie your favorite First Lady. This year 44 percent of you—a slight plurality—expect another Kennedy in the White House in the next half century. Forty-three percent entertain no such belief.

Before they died of AIDS, did you think that Liberace and Rock Hudson were gay?

There were always rumors; this was a test of how far rumors spread. Forty-eight percent of you thought both were homosexual, while 17 percent were in the dark about the two stars’ sexual preferences. Twenty-seven percent of you believed that Liberace alone was gay, and 1 percent—all of them men—thought that only Hudson was gay.

Should Vanna White be allowed to host Wheel of Fortune?

Equal rights for Vanna! cheered 62 percent of you, urging upward mobility for TV’s silent siren, perhaps worried that she’s been atrophied by her alphabet. Thirty percent like her just where she is. You know the routine: “Don’t change a thing, sweetheart.”

Do you prefer colorized movies over the original black-and-white versions?

Purists all, 41 percent of you saw red at the thought of tinting. But 55 percent, perhaps those with vacationing children who can’t stand black and white, were happy to put up with the paint-box look.

When you drop a penny, do you pick it up?

Seventy-five percent of you—composed, perhaps, of the superstitious, the tightfisted, the antilittering factions—always stoop to retrieve dropped coppers.

What is the minimum amount of money it would take for you to write a tell-all book about your family?

Shame on the 6 percent of you who, for a piddling $5, would spill the beans about Uncle Ned’s fancy woman and Cousin Bella’s gin bottle beneath the sink. We are pleased to report that most of you have standards. Eleven percent of you would require $5,000 to start singing like a canary, and an equal number would warble for $50,000. Eight percent insisted on half a million dollars, 15 percent would take no less than a cool million and (a little drumroll, please) 47 percent of you wouldn’t do it for any amount. Not even if we begged. Not even with help from Kitty Kelley.

What is the minimum amount of money it would take for you to take your clothes off at high noon in the middle of the nearest shopping mall?

Let’s cover this one quickly. Most of you, tasteful as all get-out, aren’t terribly eager to show us what’s under your Under-alls. While 17 percent would give the lunchtime crowd something to gawk at for $1 million, 63 percent of you are too polite to peel for any price. One percent—all of them men, again—require only the bare minimum ($5) to moon the mall.

Do you think Jessica Hahn was or was not a willing participant during her sexual encounter with Jim Bakker?

While 8 percent of you believe that Jessica went to that motel room intending to conduct church business, 82 percent thought it was funny business and that Jessica was ready to play, not pray.

Who do you think really has more fun—blonds or TV evangelists?

Definitely blonds, said 47 percent of you. But they won only by a hair. Forty-five percent of you thought TV evangelists were the folks who really know how to raise heck.

Who is your favorite male movie star?

Surprise! Though he didn’t even make the best 13 last year, Clint Eastwood tied for top honors this year with Tom Selleck. Robert Redford was next (maybe he should have put himself in The Milagro Beanfield War), while last year’s winner, Paul Newman, finished fourth. Then came a tie among Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds. Why Michael Douglas, in his year of Fatal Attraction, garnered only 3 percent is beyond us.

Who is your favorite female movie star?

Perennial favorite Meryl Streep took the title again this year, closely followed by Cher. Tied for third place: Glenn Close and Barbra Streisand, with former favorite Sally Field rounding out the Top 5.

If Prince Charles and Princess Diana are suffering from irreconcilable marital differences, what should they do?

A shocker! We gave you choices, but we never expected this: Thirty-seven percent of you seem to think that the blue-blooded Bickersons are getting to be a royal pain and should divorce once and for all. Sixteen percent think they should just “suffer quietly” like the rest of us. Nine percent of you suggest Charles and Di “take lovers but keep up appearances for the sake of propriety”—which is, in fact, in the royal tradition for princes, if not for princesses. But the spirit of romance lives on: Thirty-four percent of you said the royal pair should “put on Sinatra, haul out a bottle of Chianti and hope for the best.” That’s sweet, readers.

Who is your favorite male vocalist?

The Boss earned the title this year. Bruce Springsteen is up from a tie for second the last time we asked two years ago, closely followed by a tie between older reliables Kenny Rogers and Frank Sinatra. In third place, you put Michael Jackson and George Michael. The typical Bruce fan, we learned, lives in the East, is between 25 and 44 and went to college.

Who is your favorite female vocalist?

Two years ago you called Whitney Houston music’s brightest new face, and last year you predicted she’d go the distance. This year she proves her longevity with a walloping 16 percent of the vote. (By comparison, fave Bruce won with only 5 percent.) First runner-up was Barbra Streisand, and some distance below was a three-way tie for third between Madonna, Linda Ronstadt (newly popular in her Spanish-language incarnation) and Reba McEntire.

Who is your favorite band or musical group?

Alabama, with 7 percent, reclaimed the top spot they held in our ’85 and ’86 polls. Second-place Bon Jovi pulled 3 percent, followed by Irish angstmeisters U2. One quarter of you had no favorite: Either your tastes are eclectic or you’re desperately seeking a new sound.

Do you own more articles of fun lingerie or more stuffed animals? (Asked of women.)

Teddies won out over teddy bears, 51 to 40 percent. No figures available for the number of stuffed animals wearing lingerie.

Do you think these celebrities (we listed ’em) are nice people in real life ?

When it comes to Bill Cosby, what you see on TV is what you get in real life, said 88 percent of you, giving Cosby the highest rating on the nice meter. The next most credible sweetie pies were Bette Midler, David Letterman and Eddie Murphy. Thirty percent of you thought Bruce Willis is only moonlighting as a nice guy. Tipping the scale the other way—considered by more to be nasty than nice—was Joan Collins, by 47 to 46 percent.

Do you usually iron your jeans?

The poll’s most pressing question. Among jeans owners, 31 percent haul out the board and sharpen up the creases every time their indigo friends come out of the wash. Sixty-nine percent of you either think ironing defeats the purpose of the whole look or wear them so tight that, hey, who needs it? A sidelight worth mulling: Ten percent of our readers do not own a single pair of jeans.

Do you feel pangs of guilt when you buy a Japanese product?

World War II is definitely over. Seventy-two percent of you indulge your yen for yakitori, Sonys, Toyotas, Kawasakis and Nissans with nary a scrap of guilt. Twenty-six percent say they’re uncomfortable buying anything marked “Made in Japan.”

Should 14-year-old crack dealers be tried as adults?

There wasn’t a lot of equivocation here. Seventy-four percent of you said, “If they deal like grown-ups, they should be dealt with like grown-ups.” Twenty-three percent said no.

If you could, would you fire your boss?

“Dump the old so-and-so!” was the battle cry of 33 percent of you employed malcontents. A majority of 65 percent wanted to keep your current supervisor’s name on the door because you are (1) pleased with the management, (2) a bunch of apple polishers or (3) afraid the boss would be reading this poll.

Should Michael Jackson have kept his old nose?

Uh-oh. Bad news, Michael. Fifty-five percent of the readers thought you should have left smell enough alone; 30 percent approved his new proboscis, and 15 percent don’t nose.

Would you vote for President Reagan if he were allowed to run for a third term ?

An impressive 33 percent said they wanted more of Reassuring Ron. But 63 percent were ready for Reagan to ride into the sunset.

Are you better off or worse off financially than you were when the Reagan Administration began?

Maybe it’s all those pennies you’ve been picking up, but 62 percent of you said you were better off now than you were in 1980, while 29 percent said things were worse.

Which of the Reagan children will still be able to get good jobs after their father leaves office?

Thirty-two percent of you, perhaps the ones who saw him cavort in his underwear on Saturday Night Live, thought versatile dancer-broadcaster Ron was best-of-brood in terms of his employment possibilities. Maureen, co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, came in a close second, followed by singer-actress-author Patti and Michael, whose autobiography was published in April.

Will there be a nuclear war in your lifetime?

No, chirped an optimistic 58 percent of the readership. Twenty-one percent thought, “Probably not,” while 18 percent gave the unthinkable a chance. That’s down from 28 percent when we last asked the question, in 1983.

Are race relations in the U.S. better than, worse than or about the same as they were a decade ago?

Forty-eight percent think they’re better. Thirty-eight percent say race relations haven’t changed in a decade, and 13 percent think they’re worse.

Do men do a larger share of the housework now than they did a decade ago ?

The men sure think so. Eighty-six percent of them say they know the thrill of a firm hand on the vacuum cleaner. Surprisingly, 71 percent of the women also thought men were doing more than before.

Which one of the following phrases best describes your love life?

This attempted peek between the sheets turned out to be very interesting. Among our readers, love life is most often “spectacular” (23 percent) when the respondents were between the ages of 18 and 24. After that, it edged into the “just fine, thanks” range, which was the leading answer, at 37 percent. Eight percent—many of them over the age of 55, plus some teenage wiseguys—selected “I don’t remember” as their answer, and 5 percent classified their romantic lives as “sub-par.” As this year’s survey draws to a close, however, we’d like to offer a special salute to 25 percent of respondents who, knowing when to draw the line with prying pollsters, smiled, sat back and replied, “None of your damned business.”

—Written by Louise Lague and Joanne Kaufman