The Relationship Between Trust and Views on Regulation
Can Big Companies Be Trusted?
While Americans have favorable views of both big and small businesses, they have reservations as well. In particular, many aren’t sure they can trust major companies. Fifty-three percent say they have a lot or some trust and confidence that these firms will behave ethically, while 47 percent express not too much or no trust and confidence.
The public doesn’t put all corporate employees into the same category, however. Americans rate the ethics and honesty of businesspeople higher or lower depending on which rung of the management ladder they stand. For example, 41 percent say corporate CEOs have low levels of honesty and ethics. In contrast, 20 percent think mid-level managers are dishonest, and only 11 percent consider non-management employees to have low ethical standards.
Trustworthiness of Different Industries
American opinions about ethics and trust also vary by industry sector. Health insurance companies continue to be the least-trusted category, with fully half of Americans (50%) saying these firms are less trustworthy than the average major company. Pharmaceutical companies, which are labeled as less trustworthy by 45 percent of the public, don’t do much better. The reputation of banks and other financial institutions has improved slightly since last year, with 39 percent now rating them as less trustworthy than other major firms.
On the heels of large-scale recalls, the automobile industry has taken a reputation hit in the past year. Thirty-three percent of the public now consider automakers to be less trustworthy than average — up from 22 percent in 2013.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, some industries are viewed in a more positive light. Technology firms once again are out in front, with only 15 percent considering them less trustworthy than other companies and 27 percent considering them more trustworthy. Large retail companies and manufacturing companies also score relatively well.
Support for American Firms
Americans may trust some industries more than others, but they overwhelmingly favor major companies with headquarters in the United States. More than eight in ten adults say their overall opinion of U.S.-based companies is either very favorable (25%) or somewhat favorable (59%). Conversely, less than half hold such a high opinion of companies with headquarters outside the United States (5% very favorable and 32% somewhat favorable). In fact, fully one-quarter (27%) indicate that their opinion of foreign-based firms is not at all favorable.
Divided Views on Regulation
The ongoing debate over the proper role of government in regulating business is one that now divides the country almost evenly, reversing some of the dip in support for regulation revealed in the 2013 Public Affairs Pulse survey.
Forty-seven percent believe government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest, while 50 percent believe regulation usually does more harm than good. Last year, 44 percent were more pro-regulation and 52 percent were more anti-regulation.
Support for regulation divides sharply along party and ideological lines. Democrats back regulation as necessary to protect the public interest by 68 percent to 29 percent. Republicans go in the other direction, with two-thirds saying government oversight does more harm than good. Self-described independents are more evenly divided but are still more likely to be against regulation (54% to 43%).
Those who say they have “moderate” political views lean toward regulation, with 52 percent favoring it and 44 percent saying it is harmful.
Gender and educational attainment are also related to views about regulation. Women are more likely to favor regulation of business (52% necessary vs. 45% harmful), while men oppose government regulation (43% necessary to 54% harmful). College graduates back regulation 55 percent to 42 percent, compared with those with some college but no degree (44% necessary to 54% harmful).
In addition, age plays a role in how Americans feel about government oversight of the private sector. Millennials — those ages 18 to 33 — are the generation most in favor of regulation. A large majority of this youngest cohort (58%) believe regulation is necessary to protect the American public. Baby Boomers (ages 50 to 68), the Silent Generation (ages 69 to 77) and the Greatest Generation (ages 78 and up) are more skeptical of government oversight. Generation X (ages 34 to 49) continues to be split more evenly, with 46 percent leaning toward a pro-regulation attitude and 52 percent tipping toward anti-regulation.
What’s the Right Amount of Regulation?
Asking whether government regulation is necessary or harmful gets at general attitudes. Another question addresses whether business in general and various industries are over-regulated, under-regulated or regulated at the proper level.
Thirty-two percent of Americans say there is too much regulation of business, 27 percent say there is too little regulation and 40 percent say businesses are regulated about the right amount.
Roughly four in ten Americans say there is too little regulation of four major industries: health insurance companies (43%), pharmaceutical companies (43%), energy companies (41%) and banks and other financial institutions (41%). In each case, much smaller percentages believe these sectors are over-regulated.
On the other side of the spectrum, only 22 percent say that large retail companies and technology companies are under-regulated. It’s worth noting, however, that Americans are more likely to think these sectors receive the right amount of government oversight than to consider them over-regulated.
The Public Affairs Pulse survey, conducted June 16-29, 2014, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, is based on telephone interviews with 1,609 adults nationwide.