Young People Love Big Business More Than Their Parents Do
Six in 10 Americans have a favorable view of major companies, according to a new survey. Despite the anti-corporate fervor of the young people spearheading the Occupy Wall Street protests, a whopping 71 percent of "Gen Y" (ages 18-34) expressed a favorable opinion of our country's greatest bastions of capitalism.
We Love Big Business, But Not All Of It
The stereotypical young person is not more gung-ho about big business than their babyboomer parents. But even many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, as pundits have pointed out, cling to their iPhones, clutch Starbucks cups, attend private colleges, and depend on Google, Facebook, Twitter and other media companies for their outreach. After Steve Jobs' death on Oct. 5, protestors created a "shrine" in his memory at Zucotti Park, littered with apples.
This drew charges of hypocrisy from some conservative corners. Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh smeared the protesters as "trust-fund kids" and "parasites," and anyone with a Macbook was "out there protesting everything that put that laptop on his lap."
But the vast majority of Americans, and especially young people, believe that companies do a good job of providing useful products and services (72 percent to 24 percent). A significant majority think companies serve their customers well (62 percent to 32 percent), and over half believe big business is good to its shareholders (57 percent to 26 percent).
The technology sector is the most trusted of all, while energy, health insurance, pharmaceutical, and financial companies rank much lower.
The ire of the Occupy Wall Street protesters is primarily fixed on financial companies, as well as certain corporate practices that they deem unjust. Most Americans agree with these sentiments, according to a phone survey of 1,753 Americans, commissioned by the nonpartisan Public Affairs Council, and conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International.
Three quarters of the participants (77 percent) believe that too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies. Three quarters also believe that executives are paid excessively, 43 percent think major companies put the interests of their top executives first, and only 6 percent of respondents rank the honesty and ethics of CEOs as "high."
When it comes to these questions, political ideology makes almost no difference.
Business Shouldn't Play Politics, Unless It Has A Good Reason
It seems that the respondents are able to acknowledge the value of big companies overall, while at the same time expressing criticism about their specific corporate practices.
The respondents are largely split on the subject of regulation. The majority of Americans believe that the power of government to regulate business is more of a threat than big business itself (56 percent to 33 percent). But 35 percent of respondents believe there is currently not enough regulation, compared to 27 percent who believe there is too much -- a flip of Americans' attitudes in 1996.
More than half of respondents think badly of a company that "hires lobbyists." But Americans' feelings on this subject tilt the other way when you offer specific reasons why a company would seek out lobbyist aid. A majority of Americans believe that lobbying is acceptable when it protects jobs, opens new markets, creates a level playing field with international competitors, reduces business costs or secures government funding.
Fundamentally, however, Americans do not like corporations and politics getting too mixed up in each other. Around three in five participants said that they would think less of a company that formed a PAC or bought advertising for a specific candidate.
So while a majority of Americans, and especially young Americans, appreciate large companies, and the products and services they provide, they are by and large concerned about corporate abuses of power.
But however distrustful they are of CEOs and lobbyists, Americans are far less pleased with the federal government. Only 35 percent of respondents said that they held a favorable view of the folks in Washington. Their attitudes toward state and local governments, on the other hand, were much sunnier.
The news media also ranked poorly in the public's mind, winning over just a slight majority of them. But small businesses, hands down, courted the most love, with a 90 percent favorability rating. Perhaps this is no surprise, given that small business has been touted repeatedly in recent years as the the way, the hope and the light of our economy. It even makes one wonder: Who are the 10 percent of Americans who don't like small businesses?
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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