Younger Americans Look to Business, not Government, on Social Issues

26 Oct, 2022


Younger Americans Look to Business, not Government, on Social Issues

October 2022

A new Public Affairs Council/Morning Consult poll reveals a significant and possibly deepening gulf between the attitudes that older Americans have about Washington politics and those of their younger counterparts. The differences are striking when it comes to often-divisive social issues and the leadership that corporate America should or should not take in addressing racial justice, voting access and climate change.

The survey of more than 2,000 American adults conducted September 1 and 2 shows, for example, that the indignation many baby boomers express about the conduct of Washington politicians is not shared by members of Generation Z to anywhere the same degree. These younger Americans, by contrast, seem to shrug off the outrage that boomers feel about politicians’ behavior.

Younger Americans are much less concerned than boomers, for example, about the amount of time politicians spend in their efforts to win reelection and how they raise money to finance their campaigns. While 85% of boomers consider the time public officials devote to their campaigns to be a major problem, only 53% of Gen Zers share this concern, and the difference in attitudes about fundraising — 73% of boomers disapproving but only 37% of Gen Zers doing so — is even more pronounced.

The results, says Neil Howe, the co-author with the late William Strauss of Generations and The Fourth Turning, “point to a significant development in American life today — that Boomers worry far more about the administration of our elections and the procedures of government than younger Americans do. They just roll their eyes, for example, that people their parents’ age and older keep arguing about how to get money out of politics, which is something they’ve argued about for the past 30 years.”

Millennials and other younger Americans “have lost all patience with these arguments, which they view as distractions — as disputes that just get in the way of actually getting anything done,” says Howe, who is the founder and president of LifeCourse Associates, a consultancy specializing in generational attitudes. “They are far more interested in a system that works. That’s why, as this survey indicates, they are impatient with all the arguing that boomers do.”

Business, Not Government

This impatience might suggest why more and more Americans are looking toward corporate America rather than government to address major social problems. “Corporate involvement in major social issues such as racial justice, voting access and climate change is on the rise,” the survey finds, “but so is demand for corporate leadership on these issues. This is especially true as divided government and partisanship make it difficult for political leaders to reach consensus.”

The research also shows that the long-standing alliance between the Republican Party and the business community is weakening rapidly. Last year’s Pulse Survey detected a growing divergence between the views of many Republicans and the interests of major companies, a trend that has continued in 2022. “While the business community and the Democratic Party still have sharp differences on regulatory and tax issues, they are finding common ground on issues such as race relations, immigration, COVID-19 mitigation and sustainability,” according to the survey.

Declining Confidence

American adults across the generational spectrum also seem to be turning away from their confidence in government institutions and the mainstream news media. While the most trusted source of political news continues to be “friends and family” at 71%, business now ranks second at 44%. Associations and the Democratic Party tied for third at 41%, with the news media trailing at 40%. Conservative groups (33%) were considered more trustworthy as sources of political information than the Republican Party (31%).

“It’s not news that many large companies strive to be good corporate citizens,” the survey finds. “They donate money, run employee volunteerism programs, and engage in other public service ventures at the local, state, national or international levels.”

But with that come high expectations. Corporate activism has increased in recent years, and there is every indication that Americans want companies to do more, not less. The survey “reveals that more than 60% of Americans would like major companies to advocate for protecting the environment; providing food security; ending discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation and gender identity; and providing access to quality education.” More than two out of three Americans (68%) want companies to support protecting the environment and ending hunger.

Party Differences

Democrats are more strongly supportive of such advocacy than Republicans, with a wide gap, for example, in their attitudes toward corporate efforts to support legal access to abortions. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democrats want companies to be involved in the issue, compared with only 23% of Republicans, a nearly three-to-one difference. The difference is also pronounced when it comes to corporate support for improving voting access, with 65% of Democrats supporting such efforts compared with only 29% of Republicans.

Democrats and Republicans also have divergent attitudes about corporate lobbying and the role of campaign contributions from companies’ political action committees. Here, too, Democrats seem more supportive of such activities than are Republicans, which was not the case only a few years ago, when the business community and the GOP were more closely aligned. While 59% of Republicans “consider extensive lobbying in Washington, D.C., to be a major problem of our political system, only half of Democrats (49%) and Independents (51%) agreed,” the survey finds. “And while 45% of Republicans believed political action committees (PACs) were a major problem, only 36% of Democrats and 35% of Independents concurred.”

Trust in Industries

Among other notable findings, the pharmaceutical industry, though still among the least trusted sectors of the economy, has gained in public trust in recent years, perhaps because of its role in reducing the threat of COVID-19. Forty-three percent (43%) of the public says pharma is less trustworthy than average, compared with 46% in 2021 and 49% in 2020. This year, the health insurance industry ranked second (41%), energy third (33%) and technology fourth (32%) in public distrust.

When it comes to which institutions will have more influence in the future, major companies tied with the U.S. Supreme Court for first place at 32%, followed by the federal government (31%) and political parties (30%). Progressive groups and state governments (28%) were followed closely by conservative groups (27%), and the president and Congress (both at 26%).

“The fact that Americans are losing confidence in our political institutions, while troubling, also presents an opportunity for businesses,” Council President Doug Pinkham said. “The survey shows the public is clearly looking to the business community to take more leadership in solving urgent social problems; plus, business has become one of the most trusted sources of political news and information.”

Additional Resources

Upcoming Signature Event: STRIDE: A Social Impact Summit

Related Article: Actions Speak Louder Than Press Releases

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