Americans Still More Confident in Small vs. Big Business
Economy

Americans Still More Confident in Small vs. Big Business

by Andrew Dugan

Story Highlights

  • Small business one of the most trusted U.S. institutions
  • Big business often one of the least trusted

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are more than three times as likely to express confidence in small business as they are in big business. Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults report having "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in small business, far eclipsing the 21% who are similarly confident in big business. Confidence in small business is up slightly from last year's 62%, while confidence in big business is unchanged.

Trend: Americans' Confidence in Small Business vs. Confidence in Big Business

These results are based on a June 2-7 Gallup poll that included Gallup's latest update on confidence in U.S. institutions.

Small business remains one of the most popular institutions in the U.S., and is so far weathering the tide of dissatisfaction that is eroding public confidence in most other institutions. Other than the military, small business is the only major institution in 2015 that is polling above its historical average. Gallup started asking about confidence in small business in 1998, and began updating it annually in 2007, while data trends on other major institutions date back to 1973.

Over this timespan, Americans have reliably reported high confidence in small business -- every year, the measure has been well above a majority, including during the 2007-2009 U.S. recession, which dampened public trust for several institutions, particularly those that operate in the economic sphere. For example, in June 2009, confidence in banks and big business fell to lows at the time for each institution, though banks would see confidence fall further. Small business would instead see public confidence climb by seven percentage points to a high of 67%, which is where it stands today.

Confidence in big business, meanwhile, has never been particularly high, peaking at 34% in 1975, then slowly diminishing over the next four decades. Confidence bottomed out at 16% in 2009, and has since improved only slightly to its current 21%. Also of note, big business regularly ranks near the bottom in confidence among major U.S. institutions, and has finished last or tied for last in nine surveys, most recently in 2009.

Bottom Line

Just as Americans are more inclined to trust their local government than the larger federal entity, they are more likely to trust small business, while confidence in big business is in shorter supply. There are many possible reasons for this persistent pattern. Small businesses, as defined by government statistics, are the most likely source of employment for U.S. workers. Because they are more likely to be run or owned by citizens in local communities, they are often seen as more in tune with the needs of local communities than are larger corporations that must pay attention to the decisions of a potentially far-away management structure. And, small businesses are often called the "lifeblood" of the U.S. economy, as President Barack Obama described them in his 2014 Presidential Proclamation of National Small Business Week.

This is not to suggest that big business is not a consequential economic actor. Beyond the success at the marketplace that helped fuel the growth and expansion that made many big businesses "big," some large corporations have had a profound impact on U.S. society. From fast food, to culture, to technological innovation, there are endless examples of companies whose products have become infused in American lives. But for many Americans, as is true for "big government," the power and political clout that can come with increased size can also be a source of worry and mistrust.

Historical data on this measure are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 2-7, 2015, with a random sample of 1,527 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, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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