CEO Or Otherwise

Opinion-watchers’ desks are littered these days with survey data showing a majority of Americans distrust big business and its leaders. Given the news of corporate misdeeds, one would be surprised if people felt otherwise. But it’s worth stepping back to ask whether Americans tend as a rule to trust others, CEOs or not. As it happens, a long series ofsurveys makes it clear they do not. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll fielded last month, adults were asked: “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” Those saying “you can’t be too careful” outnumbered those feeling “most people can be trusted” by 57 percent to 41 percent. Are these findings an aberration produced by the unnerving events of the past year? Not at all, as becomes clear in looking at three decades of polling on the same question by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. Only once in 18 surveys dating back to 1972 did the “can’t be too careful” vote fall below 50 percent (49 percent in 1984). The 2000 results were more typical of findings over the years, with “can’t be too careful” surpassing “most can be trusted” by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent. The new Gallup poll found 18-29-year-olds more likely to say “can’t be too careful” (68 percent) than 30-49-year-olds (58 percent) or those 50 and older (50 percent). What sort of people are most likely to inspire our trust? Teachers topped this list, with 84 percent of the poll’s respondents saying most of them can be trusted. Close behind were middle-class people and people who run small businesses (75 percent apiece). By contrast, CEOs of largecorporations (23 percent) scored even lower than journalists (38 percent) and just slightly higher than managers of HMOs (20 percent). The most intriguing info-tidbit in this section of the survey: 67 percent of respondents said most poor people can be trusted, while just 43 percent said most rich people can be.