Public Affairs Council
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Poll Rates Pharma Last in Trust, but Tech is Falling Fast

A new Public Affairs Council/Morning Consult poll finds the pharmaceutical industry has remained the least-trusted sector in American business — despite supplying life-saving COVID-19 vaccines for hundreds of millions of people. It has now ranked last of nine sectors for five straight years.

But the sector with the sharpest drop in trust over the past five years is the technology industry, which has seen its trust ranking slip from first place to sixth place.

The annual Public Affairs Pulse survey of 2,199 adults, conducted Sept. 2-6, 2021, explores the intersection of business, government and society. In addition to the trust deficit, this year’s poll examines racism in America, reliable sources of political news, the most highly valued democratic principles, and who should take the lead on vaccine mandates.

Business sector trust rankings

  • Forty-six percent (46%) of the public say pharmaceutical companies are less trustworthy than other major companies. Only 13% believe they are more trustworthy. The pharmaceutical sector is also considered the most under-regulated industry, with 40% saying it has too little regulation.
  • The health insurance industry is the next lowest-ranking sector, with 41% calling it less trustworthy than other industries. It is right behind pharmaceuticals on the list of the most under-regulated sectors.
  • Technology, considered the most trustworthy sector in the U.S. as recently as 2017, has dropped to sixth place out of nine industries rated. Thirty-two percent (32%) now consider the tech sector to be less trustworthy than other industries.
  • The public has the most trust in the Food & Beverage sector with just 14% saying it is less trustworthy than other industries and 21% saying it is more trustworthy.

“’These low-trust rankings remind me of the old saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished,’” said Public Affairs Council President Doug Pinkham. “Despite the efforts of the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries to protect the public from the pandemic, and though their scores did improve over last year, deep-rooted distrust is slow to change.”

Are Democrats becoming more pro-business?

  • While 51% of Democrats trust political information they receive from major companies, only 44% of Republicans trust political information from Corporate America.
  • When it comes to promoting COVID-19 vaccinations, 78% of Democrats support corporate efforts but only 42% of Republicans support such efforts.
  • While 65% of Democrats approve when the business community speaks out against racism, only 28% of Republicans favor those actions.

Racism is getting worse, and companies aren’t making a major impact

  • Despite growing support for Black Lives Matter and changes in corporate diversity practices, 40% of Americans believe the U.S. is becoming more racist. Only 13% think it is becoming less racist.
  • Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans consider racism a somewhat or very serious problem. Only 8% believe racism is not at all serious.
  • While Democrats are more likely to be pessimistic about racism, more than twice as many Republicans (33%) believe racism is getting worse than believe it is getting better (15%).
  • Just 22% of the public say major companies are playing a positive role in reducing racism (down from 28% last year), and 18% say they are playing a negative role (up from 14%).

Strong majority of Americans support free and fair elections

  • When asked about the value of actions to promote democratic rights, Americans give the highest ratings to support of free and fair elections (74%) and freedom of speech (72%).
  • Just 59% believe protecting freedom of the press is very important to the country. The strongest support for freedom of the press comes from Americans aged 65 and older. Among 18-34-year-olds, however, only 50% consider protecting freedom of the press to be very important.
  • Just 26% of Americans say Congress is doing a good or excellent job of supporting democracy compared to 41% who say the same about President Biden.

People trust “friends and family” for political news

  • For 73% of the public, friends and family are the most trusted source of political news. The next most trusted sources are trade and professional associations (44%) and businesses (43%).
  • Only 41% trust the news media for political information, and more than half of Americans (52%) have “not too much” or no trust in political information coming from the news media. While 66% of Democrats trust the news media, only 26% of Independents and 23% of Republicans do so.
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