Health Care, Lawyers, Energy and Accounting Suffer in Public's Eye

by Frank Newport and Joseph Carroll

Annual survey of corporate images shows computer, food and retail industries viewed most positively this year

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Business and industry have come under unusually intense scrutiny this year, fueled in large part by the continuing revelations of corporate corruption, misstated financials, and chief executives profiting personally even as their companies go in the tank. Gallup's annual update on the images of major business and industry sectors provides insight into how various components of the U.S. business landscape today stack up in the public's eye -- and what has and has not changed from last year.

Major Conclusions

Only five out of 24 business and industry sectors measured in the Aug. 5-8 Gallup poll are rated positively by more than 50% of Americans: the computer, restaurant, grocery, retail, and farming and agricultural sectors. On the other hand, seven industries have overall net negative ratings, meaning that more Americans rate them negatively than rate them positively, including four with net negative ratings of –10% or less: health care, the oil and gas industry, the legal field and the pharmaceutical industry.

The positive ratings of the majority of industries have stayed the same or declined compared to last year. Accounting has suffered the most -- with a drop of 16 percentage points in its positive ratings from August of last year to August of this year. Other sectors whose positive ratings have fallen, in addition to accounting, include publishing, travel, farming and agriculture, advertising, the legal field and health care. Only a few business sectors have gained in public esteem -- most notably retail and the electric and gas utilities.

Details

  • Overall, about three in 10 Americans have a positive image of the accounting sector this year, down from almost half who had a positive image of accounting last year. About a third of Americans now have a neutral view of this sector and an additional one-third view accounting negatively.
Ratings of Business Sectors
2001-2002 Change in Sector Image
  • Americans' overall views of several other business sectors have also deteriorated in the past year, including the publishing industry, with a 9-percentage-point drop; the travel industry and farming and agriculture, each with an 8-percentage-point decrease; and the legal field, health care industry, and the advertising and public relations industry, each with a 7-percentage-point drop.
  • The only two business sectors with significant gains over the last year are the retail industry, with a 7-percentage-point increase and electric and gas utilities, with a 5-percentage-point increase.
  • Thirteen of the industries have net positive ratings, in which the percentage of the public giving them positive ratings outweighs the percentage giving them negative ratings by more than just a percentage point or two. Of these, the highest rated are the computer, restaurant, grocery, retail, farming and real estate sectors -- with only real estate having less than a 50% net positive rating.
Ratings of Business Sectors
Ratings of Business Sectors
  • Although the image of accounting suffered the most in the past year, this industry is still not at the bottom of the list. Accounting has a 31% positive and a 31% negative rating, which puts it at zero in terms of its net image (i.e., positive rating minus negative rating). Several other industries have net ratings that are well into negative territory. These include health care (–19%), the oil and gas industry (–19%), the legal field (–17%), and the pharmaceutical industry (–10%).
  • All in all, the three industry sectors with the highest negatives are health care, oil and gas, and pharmaceuticals.

Implications

None of these industry sectors have extremely positive images and many have images that can be described at best as average. The top industry among those tested -- computers -- is rated positively by 62% of the public. That's a clear majority, but not an overwhelming number. All but five of the industries tested are given positive ratings by less than half of the public. Part of this less-than-outstanding positioning of business today is the result of the changes that have occurred since last year; the images of all but eight of the sectors tested have become more negative.

Still, one of the fascinating findings in these data is the degree to which the public differentiates among industries. The question used as the basis for the ratings was not specific; it simply asked Americans to say whether their overall view of each industry was positive, neutral or negative. This means we are measuring what are akin to gut instincts, or suggestive indicators of more basic ways in which businesses are positioned in the thinking and even emotions of the respondents.

And it is clear that the immediate, visceral reaction of the public to several of these sectors is decidedly negative. As mentioned above, four in particular stand out as the sources for particularly negative reactions: two related to health (the health care industry and the pharmaceutical industry), the legal field, and finally, the oil and gas industry.

Gallup polling has shown for many years that lawyers have low ratings on an honesty and ethical scale. Thus, it is no surprise to find how poor the image of the legal profession is in the eyes of the average American.

The negative positioning of the oil and gas industry is a little more difficult to understand precisely. The high price of gasoline (particularly at certain points) may contribute to a negative reaction to the industry. One might also suspect that the highly publicized troubles associated with energy company Enron could have been responsible for the low positioning of the oil and gas industry, but this sector received scores that were just as low last summer, before Enron had become a household name.

The negative way in which the health care and pharmaceutical industries are viewed certainly gives us pause for thought. These ratings are so negative as to suggest a significantly pent-up anger on the part of the population toward their health care and drug system that could have significant political effects in the months and years to come. It was almost 10 years ago that Bill and Hillary Clinton attempted to address the nation's approach to health care issues. Although that attempt was a failure, the underlying issues that prompted the review are in many ways still with us. Clearly these data suggest that the public is ripe for some changes in the ways it receives and pays for health care and drugs.

The loss in image positioning for the accounting industry is not surprising, given the focus on Arthur Andersen's role with Enron and other corporations and on the role accounting practices should have had in uncovering other financial misreporting. These have dominated the news in recent months.

One final point. Although the 47% positive rating received by education puts it near the top of the list, it is interesting to note that a full 36% of the public gives education a negative rating, much higher than the negative ratings given to the other sectors with positives in the upper-40% range. In short, education has somewhat of a polarized image, with groups of Americans who have positive views of the sector balanced by groups with negative views.

Survey Methods

The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,007 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Aug. 5-8, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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 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. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

[BASED ON -- 518 -- ADULTS IN FORM A]

A. Accounting

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

7%

24

32

19

12

6

2001 Aug 16-19

10%

37

40

7

1

5



B. Farming and agriculture

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

16%

35

28

12

4

5

2001 Aug 16-19

23%

36

24

10

5

2



C. Automobile industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

10%

36

31

12

7

4

2001 Aug 16-19

11%

34

28

20

6

1



D. Electric and gas utilities

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

9%

27

27

24

11

2

2001 Aug 16-19

9%

22

21

30

17

1



E. Oil and gas industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

6%

19

28

28

16

3

2001 Aug 16-19

7%

17

21

33

21

1



F. Banking

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

12%

34

29

17

7

1

2001 Aug 16-19

12%

35

31

13

7

2



G. Restaurant industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

16%

45

28

7

1

3

2001 Aug 16-19

15%

47

28

6

2

2



H. Grocery industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

18%

40

25

13

3

1

2001 Aug 16-19

18%

39

29

11

2

1



I. Health care industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

10%

20

19

32

17

2

2001 Aug 16-19

11%

26

19

29

15

*



J. Internet industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

14%

29

26

16

5

10

2001 Aug 16-19

14%

30

26

20

7

3



K. The legal field

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

4%

18

35

24

15

4

2001 Aug 16-19

7%

22

24

28

17

2



L. Advertising and public relations industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

7%

24

34

23

9

3

2001 Aug 16-19

10%

28

28

23

9

2



M. Television and radio industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

11%

31

24

23

9

2

2001 Aug 16-19

11%

31

22

24

12

*



N. Movie industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

12%

22

27

22

13

4

2001 Aug 16-19

9%

24

23

24

17

3



O. Sports industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

15%

20

28

22

11

4

2001 Aug 16-19

14%

24

28

21

12

1



P. Publishing industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

8%

30

37

15

5

5

2001 Aug 16-19

12%

35

32

13

5

3



Q. Pharmaceutical industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

11%

22

22

25

18

2

2001 Aug 16-19

12%

27

22

24

14

1



R. Real Estate industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

12%

35

32

13

4

4

2001 Aug 16-19

12%

34

32

16

4

2



S. Education

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

12%

35

16

27

9

1

2001 Aug 16-19

13%

37

18

23

9

*



T. Retail industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

12%

42

30

11

2

3

2001 Aug 16-19

12%

35

34

14

3

2



U. Travel industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

9%

33

35

15

2

6

2001 Aug 16-19

11%

39

35

11

2

2



V. Telephone industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

10%

24

27

24

13

2

2001 Aug 16-19

10%

29

24

27

10

*



W. Airline industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

7%

24

33

24

6

6

2001 Aug 16-19

10%

27

29

23

7

4



X. Computer industry

 

Very
posi-
tive

Some-what
positive


Neutral

Some-what negative

Very
nega-
tive

No
opin.

2002 Aug 5-8

20%

42

24

5

4

5

2001 Aug 17-19 ^

27%

40

20

9

1

3

^ BASED ON -- 326 -- NATIONAL ADULTS INTERVIEWED AUG. 17-19, 2001.



SUMMARY TABLE: BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY RATINGS

 

2002 Aug 5-8
(sorted by "net positive")

Total
posi-
tive


Neutral

Total
nega-
tive

Net
positive

%

%

%

%

Computer industry

62

24

9

53

Restaurant industry

61

28

8

53

Grocery industry

58

25

16

42

Retail industry

54

30

13

41

Farming and agriculture

51

28

16

35

Real Estate industry

47

32

17

30

Automobile industry

46

31

19

27

Travel industry

42

35

17

25

Banking

46

29

24

22

Internet industry

43

26

21

22

Publishing industry

38

37

20

18

Education

47

16

36

11

Television and radio industry

42

24

32

10

Sports industry

35

28

33

2

Electric and gas utilities

36

27

35

1

Airline industry

31

33

30

1

Accounting

31

32

31

0

Movie industry

34

27

35

-1

Adv.and publ. relations ind.

31

34

32

-1

Telephone industry

34

27

37

-3

Pharmaceutical industry

33

22

43

-10

The legal field

22

35

39

-17

Health care industry

30

19

49

-19

Oil and gas industry

25

28

44

-19



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