Thank Goodness Big Business Is Here To Soak Up So Much of Our Antipathy

“Oh, yeah? Well, we don’t have confidence in you, either!” That’s the kind of spirited response one would like to see from big business as it digests the latest Gallup poll on Americans’ confidence in major institutions. Just 8 percent of respondents said they have “a great deal” of confidence in big business, with another 14 percent feeling “quite a lot” of confidence. Forty-four percent have merely “some” confidence in big business, while 31 percent have “very little” and 2 percent have “none.” Even organized labor, a perennial loser in polls of this sort, fared better, with 28 percent of respondents having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it, vs. 22 percent with little or none. Banks escaped the opprobrium heaped upon big business in general, with 19 percent of respondents having a great deal of confidence in them and 31 percent having quite a lot.

You might think the current disesteem for big business is a quirk, skewed by the lousy economy and the recent lousy behavior of assorted CEOs. But no. While these factors haven’t helped, the fact is that Americans never think highly of the corporate sector. Even in the boom years of 1998 and 1999—when, as Gallup points out, “business was seemingly making all Americans richer”—just 30 percent had much confidence in it.

The poll reflects the mixed feelings people have about healthcare. When asked about “the medical system,” people gave a largely positive verdict (44 percent with a great deal or quite a lot of confidence, vs. 20 percent with very little or none). As for HMOs, though, 17 percent said they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence, while 42 percent have very little or none. The military won the best scores (48 percent a great deal of confidence, 34 percent quite a lot). The police ran second (29 percent a great deal, 32 percent quite a lot). The presidency came in a respectable third (26 percent a great deal, and 29 percent quite a lot), well ahead of Congress (10 percent a great deal, 19 percent quite a lot).

Religion has recovered some of the ground it lost amid the Catholic Church’s sex scandals. Half of the respondents expressed a great deal (27 percent) or quite a lot (23 percent) of confidence in organized religion, vs. 45 percent a year ago. Still, that’s its second-lowest score in Gallup’s 30 years of polling on the issue. Religion also elicited the largest gender gap in the survey. Fifty-six percent of women gave it a positive assessment, vs. 44 percent of men. The most intriguing gender gap, though, was the one that didn’t occur: Nearly identical numbers of men (82 percent) and women (81 percent) voiced high levels of confidence in the military.