CEOs: We Have a Reputation Problem

Americans Seek Trusted, Ethical, Accountable CEOs

Majority of U.S. Consumers Say If They Were CEO, They Would Avoid Taking a Stand on Political Issues

Republicans Significantly More Positive about Business Leaders’ Reputations Yet Democrats View Reputations of Media Industry CEOs More Positively than Republicans


NEW YORK – Fifty percent of Americans rate the reputations of today’s CEOs and corporate leaders as “bad,” according to research from The Harris Poll Reputation QuotientÒ (RQÒ), which has identified movement, trends and insights in a changing corporate reputation landscape for the past 18 years. Only one-quarter of the public rates CEOs with “good” reputations; 26 percent are neutral.

According to the Harris Poll study, which polled more than 23,000 U.S. adults, Americans cite trusted, ethical and accountable as the most important traits for CEOs, while it is less important for business leaders to be curious, visible and bold.

“When an astounding half of the country thinks CEOs and business leaders have bad reputations, that’s a major issue,” said Wendy Salomon, vice president of reputation management and public affairs, The Harris Poll. “Consumers first and foremost look for human decency traits¾trust, accountability, ethics, competency, respect. The public isn’t looking for a cowboy CEO; it’s not about brazen, visible risk-takers. They seek a more measured individual in the leadership seat.”

Republicans, Millennials Rate CEO Reputations More Positively

The Harris Poll study finds that Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or Independents are to give CEOs a “good” rating, while Millennials (age 18-34) view CEO reputations more positively than older generations.

Majority Says If They Were CEO, They Would Not Take Stand on Political Issues

As CEOs wrestle with taking a public stand for company values in a divided U.S. political climate, the majority (75%) of Americans say if they were CEO of a large company, they would avoid taking a position on political issues.

The additional Harris Poll research, which was conducted among more than 2,000 U.S. adults February 27 – March 1, shows that Americans are divided when it comes to companies mixing business and politics. Half (51%) of consumers expect companies to have a clear position on visible political matters while more than half (59%) say that understanding a company’s position on political issues isn’t that important.

“U.S. consumers are struggling with what to make of our political climate and where Corporate America should fit in,” said Salomon. “Americans’ polarized views of whether or not companies should engage on politically-charged issues makes this uncharted territory; it’s an exceptionally tricky area for CEOs and other business leaders to navigate. We know that companies that have taken very public stands for their beliefs are reputationally rewarded by consumers of similar conservative or liberal views, but there is also clear risk among those who feel otherwise.”

A Harris Poll study released in February indicates that Americans view the reputations of some companies as aligned with their individual values. Republicans hold the reputations of Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby – companies that have vocally shared their conservative beliefs – significantly more favorably than Democrats do. Democrats perceive Target’s reputation more positively.

More Positive Ratings for Media Industry CEOs — From Democrats

While generally, conservatives rate most industry leaders higher than liberals, the Harris Poll research shows that Democrats (53%) rate business leaders in the media industry significantly higher than Republicans do (26%).

“When viewing CEO reputation via an industry lens, the media industry is an anomaly, indicating that perhaps the divisive presidential election and the new administration’s proclaimed ‘war on the media’ has had an effect on how Democrats and Republicans respond to and view that sector,” said Salomon. “The media has become a lightning rod, and CEOs must work to inform the public, but also to regain all of the public’s trust in a hyper-partisan environment.”


The 2017 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient was conducted online in English, among 23,633 U.S. respondents from November 29 – December 16, 2016, with preliminary nominating waves of research conducted among 4,092 respondents from September 13 -15 and October 4 – 6, 2016.

The Annual RQ study begins with a Nomination Phase, which is used to identify the companies with the most “visible” reputations. All respondents are asked, unaided, to name companies that stand out as having the best and worst reputations. Online nominations are summed to create a total number of nominations for each company. The final list of the 100 most visible companies in the U.S. is measured in the RQ Ratings Phase. In the ratings phase, respondents are randomly assigned to rate two of the companies with which they are “very” or “somewhat” familiar.  After the first company rating is completed, the respondent is given the option to rate the second company. Companies are rated on their reputation on 20 different attributes that comprise the Reputation Quotient instrument. The attributes are grouped into six different reputation dimensions: Emotional Appeal, Financial Performance, Products and Services, Social Responsibility, Vision and Leadership, and Workplace Environment.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll and sample partner surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in an online panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

About the Reputation Quotient

The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ), an established annual measure of the understanding of corporate reputation in America since 1999, identifies movement, trends and insights in a changing corporate reputation landscape. It quantifies reputation ratings for the 100 most visible companies in the U.S., as perceived by the general public. A trusted baseline for understanding and managing corporate reputation and identifying new market risks and opportunities, the RQ measures companies’ reputation strength based on the perceptions of more than 23,000 Americans across six corporate reputation dimensions: Social Responsibility, Emotional Appeal, Products and Services, Vision and Leadership, Financial Performance, and Workplace Environment. The Harris Poll 2017 Reputation Quotient Summary Report can be found at

About The Harris Poll
Over the last five decades, Harris Polls have become media staples. With comprehensive experience and precise technique in public opinion polling, along with a proven track record of uncovering consumers’ motivations and behaviors, The Harris Poll has gained strong brand recognition around the world. The Harris Poll offers a diverse portfolio of proprietary client solutions to transform relevant insights into actionable foresight for a wide range of industries including health care, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer packaged goods.

The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient results disclosed in this press release may not be used for advertising, marketing or promotional purposes without the prior written consent of Harris Poll.