PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans continue to give the computer industry the most positive ratings out of 25 business and industry sectors tested, with the restaurant industry in second place. The oil and gas industry and the federal government have the least positive images, as they did last year.
Gallup has asked Americans each August since 2001 to indicate whether they have positive or negative views of a list of business and industry sectors. The 2012 update is from Gallup's Aug. 9-12 Work and Education survey.
Americans have widely differing opinions of these business sectors, with positive ratings ranging from 73% for the computer industry to 22% for the oil and gas industry, and negative ratings going from 10% for the computer and restaurant industries to 61% for oil and gas.
Five of the six highest-rated business and industry sectors, according to their net positive scores, are related to either the computer or the food sector of the economy. The one exception is the "retail" industry, which is in third place this year. The images of both the oil and gas industry and the federal government have improved this year compared with last, but they remain at the bottom of the list.
More broadly, the positive ratings of several industries improved significantly this year -- the healthcare, education, and retail sector ratings are up the most. Banking, farming/agriculture, and electric and gas utilities are among the smaller group of industries whose images worsened slightly this year.
Image of Healthcare Sector Best Yet
Americans' views of the healthcare industry this year are the most positive they have been over the past decade. Healthcare industry ratings have been generally quite volatile, becoming more negative in 2007 and 2008, recovering in 2009, and falling back again in 2010 and 2011.
Although it is difficult to isolate precise reasons for these changes, the current uptick in the healthcare industry's positive image may reflect the impact of the Supreme Court's June decision upholding the massive Affordable Care Act.
Federal Government's Image Recovers Again This Year
Americans' ratings of the federal government recovered slightly this year, but are not back to where they were prior to declining to their lowest level on record last year, just after the protracted wrangling and indecision on raising the debt ceiling. Previously, Americans' views of the federal government began to deteriorate significantly in 2004 and then rose slightly in the first two years of the Obama administration.
In the broadest sense, the change since 2003 has been substantial, with a drop in positive ratings of 18 percentage points and a rise in negative ratings of 25 points.
Republicans have the most negative image of the federal government, with 85% saying their impression is either somewhat or very negative. Independents and Democrats are less negative, but notably, even Democrats have slightly more negative than positive impressions of the federal government.
Most Americans come into frequent contact with the computer, food, oil and gas, and banking segments of the economy, yet the images of these segments differ dramatically. Americans think very highly of the computer, Internet, restaurant, grocery, and agricultural sectors, but very poorly of the oil and gas and banking industries.
The cause of the oil and gas industry's bad image is most likely the frequent and sometimes inexplicably large spikes in the price of gas. At the time of this survey, in fact, the price of gas was on the rise. Plus, the oil and gas industry may get dinged by some Americans for its perceived poor environmental record.
On the other hand, America has remained the world's dominant player in many aspects of the computer industry, with companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook standing as examples of entrepreneurial efforts that arose in short periods of time to offer products and services used the world over. It appears that Americans appreciate these success stories and hold these industry sectors in high esteem.
Food prices are on the rise due to the continuing drought conditions in parts of the U.S., which may help explain why the farming and agriculture sector's image is down slightly this year. Still, overall, Americans apparently think highly of the elements of the food production and distribution chain that provide the country's citizens with their daily sustenance.
Voters' perceptions of the appropriate role of government will play a major role in this November's presidential election. The Romney-Ryan ticket will continue to argue that the government should have a lessened role in America's social and economic spheres, while the Obama-Biden ticket will argue for the importance of government in addressing major social and economic problems. How the poor image of the federal government will affect these debates is not yet clear. The Republicans have an edge in voter sympathy with their criticism of government in general, it would appear, although the fact that Romney's new running mate is himself a sitting member of Congress could in theory negate some of that advantage.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.