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Public Affairs Pulse Survey – 2016

By September 17, 2016October 3rd, 2023Pulse (CT)

Public Affairs Pulse Survey – 2016

What Americans Think About Business

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Americans View Discrimination as a Serious Problem

What’s Corporate America’s Role?

The 2016 Public Affairs Pulse survey found that the public would support more efforts by businesses to prevent discrimination, and is often unaware of current corporate efforts to do so.

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Many Business Anti-Discrimination Efforts Go Unnoticed
The survey found that major companies receive little credit for their efforts to reduce discrimination.

One in three Americans (34%) think corporations have played a positive role in reducing discrimination against people with disabilities, and slightly lower percentages recognize business efforts to reduce discrimination by gender (28%), race (27%) and sexual orientation (26%). As to discrimination by gender identity, religion and age, more Americans feel companies have played a negative role than positive role.

Across all categories of discrimination, however, the most common response from the public is that corporate actions have made no difference at all. For example, despite the much talked-about corporate advocacy against legislation seeking to regulate access to public restroom facilities by transgender individuals, nearly half of Americans (46%) say business efforts to reduce gender identity discrimination have had no impact. A near-identical percentage (47%) feel that years of corporate actions against racial discrimination haven’t made a difference.

Taking a Stand: How Corporations Speak Out of Social Issues, a study released by the Public Affairs Council this past August, found that corporations are feeling the pressure to get involved in social issues, and much of that pressure is coming from their own employees. The study of 92 businesses found that 60 percent of respondents have experienced pressure to get involved in social issues and 74 percent expect that pressure to increase. Companies said they were involved in recent efforts to end discrimination/restrictions based on sexual orientation (59%) gender (54%) and gender identity (52%).

Public Supports More Efforts by Companies
Employees want companies to do more — and so does the public. The Pulse survey found that if major companies were to take steps to prevent discrimination based on any of these factors, most Americans say they would view these efforts favorably. This is particularly true for discrimination based on disabilities, race, age and gender. But it applies to every category — even those portrayed as controversial by the media. For example, while 10 percent of the public say they would think less favorably of companies taking steps to prevent gender identity discrimination, 53 percent say they would have a more favorable opinion of firms working to address this issue.

Public Concerned About Discrimination in Many Forms

Strong majorities of Americans are concerned about discrimination in all of its forms: based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, gender and age. Those are the findings of the 2016 Public Affairs Pulse survey, a new nationwide poll of 1,000 adults.

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Race and Gender Identity Rank Most Serious

The problem of racial discrimination is considered the most serious discrimination challenge the country faces, followed by gender identity (transgender) discrimination.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Americans believe racial discrimination is, at least, a serious problem and 37 percent say it is a very serious problem. Similar percentages call gender identity discrimination at least serious (67%) or very serious (37%).

Concerns about discrimination based on gender identity, as well as by sexual orientation, which also ranked high by respondents as serious (64%) or very serious (35%), reflect changing attitudes by the American public and the courts. Marriage equality became the law of the land in June 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, North Carolina passed a controversial law that eliminates LGBT anti-discrimination protections and requires that people in government buildings may only use restroom and changing facilities that correspond to the gender indicated on their birth certificates. Many companies have publicly opposed the law, with some going so far as to boycott events and business activities in the state.

Most Americans also believe other types of discrimination are serious concerns, including discrimination based on disability, religion, gender and age. In fact, all categories of discrimination were ranked as serious by a majority of Americans.

Attitudes about discrimination do, however, vary sharply based on political party, age, gender and other factors.

Americans also want major companies to play a role in combating discrimination.

Discrimination and Demographics

Discrimination is an issue upon which opinions can vary sharply based on political affiliation, age, gender, ethnicity and education.

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Differences Between Political Parties

According to the 2016 Public Affairs Pulse survey data, on balance, Republicans are less likely than Democrats and Independents to see discrimination across the seven categories identified in the survey: race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, gender and age. While majorities of Republicans say racial and religious discrimination are serious problems, smaller percentages of GOP voters are as concerned about the other forms.

The largest differences between Republicans and Democrats show up in attitudes about gender identity discrimination (46% of Republicans versus 84% of Democrats view the matter to be serious) and sexual orientation (45% of Republicans versus 79% of Democrats say this is a serious problem). The smallest difference in attitudes relates to religious discrimination (52% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats call this issue serious). Majorities of Independents say all seven forms of discrimination are serious, but the percentages are not as high as those for Democrats.

[NOTE: A recent Gallup poll shows that 45 percent of Americans say they are not a member of either major party.]

Differences by Age and Gender
Age and gender also factor in the public’s beliefs. People under 50 are more likely than older people to say most forms of discrimination are a serious problem, and, in general, women are more likely than men to be concerned about discrimination. In some cases, the differences can be dramatic. For example:

  • Three-quarters (75%) of women under 50 believe that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a serious problem, yet only 51 percent of men over 50 agree with this assessment.
  • Sixty-four percent of men under 50 say religious discrimination is a serious problem, while only 47 percent of older men agree.

Other Demographic Differences
The poll also captured demographic differences on the seriousness of discrimination based on ethnicity and education attainment.

  • African-Americans and Latinos are more concerned than white Americans about the seriousness of discrimination across all categories. One of the biggest differences shows up in attitudes about discrimination by gender identity, which is called a serious problem by 63 percent of white Americans, 76 percent of Hispanics and 87 percent of African-Americans.
  • Views on the seriousness of discrimination by education attainment reveal the biggest differences between the highest level of education (postgraduate) and the lowest (high school or less) across the categories of age (61% vs. 49%), race (80% vs. 72%) and gender (67% vs. 60%).


Prepared by Public Opinion Strategies for the Public Affairs Council

The 2016 Pulse Survey poll results are from a survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the Public Affairs Council from September 12-17, 2016. The survey was conducted by telephone among a cross section of 1,000 adults (18+) nationwide.

The national sample for this poll was drawn in the following manner: Individuals were selected proportionate to the nation’s population in accordance with a probability sample design that gives all landline telephone numbers (both listed and unlisted) an equal chance to be included. Adults, age 18 years old or over, were selected by a systematic procedure to provide a balance of respondents by sex. Of the 1,000 interviews 450 respondents (45%) were reached on a cell phone. The cell phone sample was drawn from a list of cell phone users nationally.

The data’s margin of error is ±3.1 percentage points for 1,000 adults at the 95% confidence. Sample tolerances for subgroups are larger. Minimal weights, including to race and ethnicity, geographic region, age, and education have been applied.

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Slides and infographics highlighting survey results are available for members to use for company briefings. Our senior staff are also frequently called on to make presentations on topics covered in the Public Affairs Pulse.