Big Business Seen as Too Powerful

April 6, 2010

A sizable majority of Americans think big business and banks and financial institutions have too much power in Washington, DC, according to the results of a recent Harris Poll.

Influence of Money and Political Insiders Targeted
Four groups in particular are seen by strong majorities as having too much power and influence in Washington and there is a clear theme for these groups. Two are in business: big companies (87%) and banks and financial institutions (83%), while the two others are “Inside the Beltway” groups: PACs, or political action committees which give money to political candidates, and political lobbyists (both seen as too powerful by 83% of respondents).


There are six other groups who majorities of Americans say have too much power and influence in Washington: the news media (66%), entertainment and sports celebrities (61%), trial lawyers (60%), trade associations (57%), labor unions (57%) and TV and radio talk shows (55%).

Small Business, Public Seen as Not Powerful Enough
At the other end of the spectrum, there are groups that are seen as having too little power and influence over policy and politicians. More than nine in ten Americans (93%) say small business has too little power, while 82% say the same about public opinion. Two-thirds of U.S. adults (67%) say nonprofit organizations have too little power and influence and more than half say the same about opinion polls (55%), churches and religious groups (54%) and racial minorities (52%).

Republicans, Democrats Agree on Influence of ‘Big Money’
Although Republicans have an image of supporting big business, Republicans and Democrats agree that big business and banks and financial institutions wield too much political power. Eighty percent of Republicans and 86% of Democrats say big business has too much power in Washington, DC, while 79% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats say the same about banks and financial institutions.


A high percentage of both Republicans and Democrats agree that political lobbyists have too much political influence, but 90% of Republicans have this opinion, compared to 78% of Democrats. Members of the two parties are closer together in their rating of political action committees as having too much political influence (81% of Republicans, 78% of Democrats).

However, Republicans are much more likely to believe that labor unions (75% vs. 36%), racial minorities (53% vs. 17%), and entertainment and sports celebrities (74% vs. 48%) have too much power. On the other hand, Democrats are much more likely to believe churches and religious groups (44% vs. 13%) and TV and radio talk shows (62% vs. 45%) have too much power.

Corporate America’s Reputation Slightly Climbs
Despite public belief that big business has too much political influence, the reputation of Corporate America has slightly improved, according to other research by Harris Interactive.

The percentage of respondents to a Harris study measuring the reputations of the 60 most visible companies in the US who see the state of reputation as “not good” or “terrible” decreased from 88% in 2008 to 81% in 2009. In addition, there was a 50% increase in the number of Americans who said that the state of reputation is “good,” moving from 12% to 18%. This is the first positive improvement in four years.

About the Survey: The Harris Poll was conducted by telephone within the United States between February 10 and 15, 2009 among a nationwide cross section of 1,010 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, size of place (urbanicity), and number of phone lines voice/telephone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.


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