NEW YORK With a new regime in Washington looking to plug what it regards as holes in the regulation of business, big companies may be feeling friendless in the nation's capital these days. But that's not the way the general public sees matters, judging by a Harris Poll released last week.
Respondents were asked whether they think various entities have "too much or too little power and influence" in Washington. "Big companies" tied with "political action committees which give money to political candidates" for the highest "too much" vote, at 85 percent. Just 10 percent of respondents said big companies have too little power and influence in Washington. (The rest declined to choose between "too much" and "too little.")
"The news media" fared almost as poorly as big business in this survey: 75 percent of respondents said the media have too much power, vs. 18 percent saying they have too little. Also slapped with high "too much" scores were "entertainment and sports celebrities" (70 percent, vs. 20 percent "too little") and "TV and radio talk shows" (59 percent, vs. 29 percent "too little"). Trade associations came out just a bit better in the polling, fielded last month, with 55 percent of respondents saying they have too much power and influence in Washington, vs. 30 percent saying they have too little. Labor unions were also in the middle of the pack (54 percent saying "too much" and 40 percent "too little").
As is typically the case in such polls, respondents were overwhelmingly positive in their view of small business. Just 5 percent said they think small business has too much power and influence in Washington, while 90 percent said it has too little. Whatever its faults in the real world, the small-business sector has a golden aura in the public mind.
The economic events of the past year obviously haven't elevated big business in the public's esteem. But it's worth noting that survey respondents routinely take their shots at this sector. Harris polling dating back to 1994 has consistently found at least 80 percent of respondents saying they believe big business wields too much power and influence in Washington. Conversely, the percentage saying small business has too little power and influence has never fallen below 85 percent during those years.
In a breakdown of the data by political affiliation, you might expect Republicans to be indulgent toward big business. But they aren't. While 88 percent of Democrats said big business has too much power and influence in Washington, so did 84 percent of Republicans (as well as 86 percent of independents). There were wide partisan splits, though, in opinions about some other entities. For instance, Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to say "churches and religious groups" have too much power and influence (41 percent vs. 18 percent). Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to say the same about labor unions (77 percent vs. 36 percent).