How Does the American Public View Your Industry?

By at 9 September, 2020, 4:21 pm

by Raymond J. Keating-

Small business owners and executives at larger firms should take note of a new poll from Gallup that gauges Americans’ views of particular industries. Gallup asked, as it has been doing for decades, about one’s “overall view” of specific business sectors and how they are viewed in the following terms: “very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative or very negative.”

Let’s consider a few key takeaways.

First, only seven industries came in with a “total positive” view at 50 percent or better – farming and agriculture at 69 percent; grocery industry at 63 percent; restaurant industry at 61 percent; computer industry at 56 percent; retail industry at 53 percent; healthcare industry at 51 percent; and electric and gas utilities at 50 percent.

That means that 18 out of 25 industries fail in having half of Americans viewing them positively. Could that say something about the mindset among a significant swath of Americans, rather than what it might say about those 18 industries? Indeed, one must ask: Are Americans largely anti-business?

Second, that question should lead us to consider the “total negative” take on industries. Thankfully, we only see one industry hitting a 50 percent negative – and that’s actually not an “industry,” but the federal government, which also is tied for lowest positive score at 30 percent. Considering the ills that government can and does inflict, I take that as a healthy skepticism of government by Americans.

For good measure, only two more industries hit at least a 40 percent negative, i.e., the pharmaceutical industry at 49 percent (with a positive take by 34 percent) and the sports industry at 40 percent (and a positive take of only 30 percent – tied for worst with the federal government). I have always been baffled by the high negatives for the pharmaceutical industry. After all, the entrepreneurs, scientists and other employees at these firms are working to produce life-saving medicines, like vaccines and therapeutics.

Third, other industries that face some obvious challenges are the publishing industry at 38 percent positive; movie industry at 37 percent positive; the legal field at 34 percent; and the advertising and public relations industry at 33 percent.

Is there a silver lining in Americans’ views of business?

Well, nearly every industry in the U.S. is overwhelmingly populated by smaller businesses (for example, among employer firms, 98 of U.S. businesses have fewer than 100 workers) and in another Gallup survey, Americans’ were asked their views of various “institutions,” and as SBE Council noted: “Small business … ranked best, with a total of 75 percent saying they had ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in small businesses. That was up by seven percentage points from the previous poll.”

Perhaps more industries need to emphasize their small business roots and realities.  Here is the table from Gallup’s report.

Americans’ Views of U.S. Business and Industry Sectors, 2020

For each of the following business sectors in the United States, please say whether your overall view of it is very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative or very negative.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.


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