Big Companies, PACs, Banks, Financial Institutions and Lobbyists Seen by Strong Majorities as Having Too Much Power and Influence in DC

New York, N.Y. – June 1, 2011 – When one thinks about how Washington, D.C. works, certain groups are always seen as being too powerful and wielding too much influence among the decision-making authorities. Almost nine in ten Americans say that big companies (88%) and political action committees or PACs (87%) have too much power and influence in Washington D.C. More than four in five U.S. adults believe that banks and financial institutions (85%) and political lobbyists (84%) carry too much influence inside the Beltway while almost three-quarters believe the news media (72%) has too much power.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 1,010 adults surveyed by telephone between April 12 and 18, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

More than three in five Americans say entertainment and sports celebrities (62%) and trade associations (61%) have too much power and influence while majorities believe this about trial lawyers (58%), labor unions (55%) and television and radio talk shows (53%).

At the other end of the spectrum, nine in ten Americans (91%) say that small business has too little power and influence in Washington, D.C., while 82% say the same about public opinion and 65% believe this about non-profit organizations. Just over half of U.S. adults say that opinion polls (53%) and racial minorities (53%) have too little power. Churches and religious groups fall a bit in the middle as just under half (49%) say they have too little power and influence while 42% believe they have too much.

Changes over time

There have been some changes from both last year and over time. Some of the largest shifts from 1994 are:

  • A nine point increase, from 46% to 55%, in those who believe Labor Unions have too much power;
  • A seven point decrease, from 79% to 72%, in those who say the News Media has too much power; and
  • A five point increase, from 79% to 84%, in those who say Political Lobbyists have too much power in Washington, D.C.

Some of the largest changes since last year are:

  • A seven point increase, from 35% to 42%, in those who believe Churches and Religious Groups have too much power;
  • A six point increase, from 66% to 72%, in those who believe the News Media has too much power and influence;
  • A six point increase, from 31% to 37%, in those who say Opinion Polls have too much power; and
  • A six point increase, from 21% to 27%, in those who say Non-Profit Organizations have too much power.

 

Partisan differences

Republicans, Democrats and Independents tend to agree on certain issues related to power and influence in Washington. Over 80 percent of all three groups believe that big companies have too much power and influence (84%, 87% and 93%, respectively) and similar numbers say so about PACs (89%, 84%, and 94% respectively). Less than 8% all three party groups think small business has too much power and influence in D.C.

However, there are also some large differences. Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe that labor unions have too much power (80% vs. 34%). They are also more likely to think that racial minorities (53% vs. 22%), non-profit organizations (34% vs. 16%) and the news media (84% vs. 63%) have too much power.

Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely than Republicans to think churches and religious organizations (51% vs. 29%), television and radio talk shows (56% vs. 49%) and small business (7% vs. less than 0.5%) have too much power.

So what?

The perception of business in this country is one that has always been split. For years, big business has topped this list, being perceived as wielding too much power, while small business has sat at the bottom of the list, seen as having too little. This is why the issue of large Wall Street bonuses and tax breaks for big companies will never sit well with Americans and why railing against big business is an effective campaign slogan for politicians.

 

TABLE 1

GROUPS SEEN AS HAVING TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE POWER AND INFLUENCE IN WASHINGTON

And now a question about the power of different groups in influencing government policy, politicians, and policy makers in Washington. Do you think (READ EACH ITEM) have/has too much or too little power

and influence in Washington?

Base: All Adults

Too Much

Too Little

About Right

Not Sure/Refused

%

%

%

%

Big companies

88

9

1

2

Political action committees which give money to political candidates

87

7

2

4

Banks and financial institutions

85

10

1

4

Political lobbyists

84

12

1

4

The news media

72

20

2

6

Entertainment and Sports celebrities

62

27

4

7

Trade associations

61

24

1

14

Trial lawyers

58

28

3

11

Labor unions

55

40

2

3

TV and radio talk shows

53

36

3

8

Churches & religious groups

42

49

3

5

Opinion Polls

37

53

3

7

Racial minorities

35

53

5

8

Non-profit organizations

27

65

2

6

Public opinion

13

82

2

3

Small business

5

91

1

3

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100 percent due to rounding.

 

TABLE 2

GROUPS SEEN AS HAVING TOO MUCH POWER – TRENDS 1994-2011

And now a question about the power of different groups in influencing government policy, politicians, and policy makers in Washington. Do you think (READ EACH ITEM) have/has too much or too little power

and influence in Washington?

Percent saying too much

Base: All Adults

1994

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Big companies

86

82

84

86

87

80

83

Political action committees which give money to political candidates

88

83

83

83

83

78

81

Banks and financial institutions

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Political lobbyists

79

75

74

71

70

69

72

The news media

79

81

77

77

72

72

71

Entertainment and Sports Celebrities

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Trade Associations

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Trial lawyers

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Labor unions

46

42

39

44

46

45

48

TV and radio talk shows

51

54

54

57

47

54

54

Churches & religious groups

n/a

n/a

27

28

31

27

32

Opinion Polls

37

36

35

38

33

33

36

Racial minorities

38

31

32

30

27

20

31

Non-profit organizations

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Public opinion

14

21

15

14

15

19

18

Small business

4

3

5

5

5

4

5

2005

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Change Since 1994

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Big companies

90

84

86

85

87

88

+2

Political action committees which give money to political candidates

85

85

83

85

83

87

-1

Banks and financial institutions

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

83

85

n/a

Political lobbyists

74

79

80

81

83

84

+5

The news media

68

71

74

75

66

72

-7

Entertainment and Sports Celebrities

n/a

n/a

69

70

61

62

n/a

Trade Associations

61

52

57

55

57

61

n/a

Trial lawyers

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

60

58

n/a

Labor unions

43

47

51

54

57

55

+9

TV and radio talk shows

51

54

57

59

55

53

+2

Churches & religious groups

35

38

40

34

35

42

n/a

Opinion Polls

33

38

44

38

31

37

0

Racial minorities

28

32

33

33

32

35

-3

Non-profit organizations

23

18

23

19

21

27

n/a

Public opinion

16

17

20

18

13

13

-1

Small business

4

6

4

5

4

5

+1

 

TABLE 3

GROUPS SEEN AS HAVING TOO LITTLE POWER – TRENDS 1994-2011

And now a question about the power of different groups in influencing government policy, politicians, and policy makers in Washington. Do you think (READ EACH ITEM) have/has too much or too little power

and influence in Washington?

Percent saying too little

Base: All Adults

1994

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Political action committees which give money to political candidates

8

8

7

6

7

12

11

Big companies

9

8

6

6

5

10

9

Banks and financial institutions

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Political lobbyists

13

12

12

13

11

15

16

The news media

13

9

8

10

14

17

18

Trade Associations

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Entertainment and Sports Celebrities

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Trial lawyers

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

TV and radio talk shows

37

29

24

23

29

29

28

Labor unions

43

41

40

37

35

37

37

Churches & religious groups

n/a

n/a

52

56

51

53

53

Racial minorities

51

52

50

51

51

59

54

Opinion Polls

52

49

44

41

49

48

47

Non-profit organizations

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Public opinion

82

74

74

73

75

69

72

Small business

92

85

85

88

87

88

88

2005

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Change

Since 1994

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Political action committees which give money to political candidates

10

11

9

9

11

7

-1

Big companies

5

11

8

10

9

9

0

Banks and financial institutions

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

9

10

n/a

Political lobbyists

17

14

13

14

11

12

+1

The news media

23

20

17

18

23

20

+7

Trade Associations

22

28

24

30

24

24

n/a

Entertainment and Sports Celebrities

n/a

n/a

20

20

24

27

n/a

Trial lawyers

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

24

28

n/a

TV and radio talk shows

34

31

32

29

33

36

-1

Labor unions

46

42

39

40

34

40

-3

Churches & religious groups

55

51

52

57

54

49

n/a

Racial minorities

58

54

51

53

52

53

+2

Opinion Polls

53

49

46

51

55

53

+1

Non-profit organizations

67

68

65

71

67

65

n/a

Public opinion

78

74

74

76

82

82

0

Small business

92

90

90

90

93

91

-1

 

TABLE 4

GROUPS SEEN AS HAVING TOO MUCH POWER – BY PARTY ID

And now a question about the power of different groups in influencing government policy, politicians, and policy makers in Washington. Do you think (READ EACH ITEM) have/has too much or too little power and influence in Washington?

Percent saying too much

Base: All Adults

Total

Party ID

Difference between

Republicans and Democrats

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

Big companies

88

84

87

93

-3

Political action committees which give money to political candidates

87

89

84

94

+5

Banks and financial institutions

85

86

83

89

+3

Political lobbyists

84

88

82

88

+6

The news media

72

84

63

70

+21

Entertainment and Sports Celebrities

62

67

52

70

+15

Trade Associations

61

68

60

60

+8

Trial lawyers

58

58

48

68

+10

Labor unions

55

80

34

58

+46

TV and radio talk shows

53

49

56

58

-7

Churches & religious groups

42

29

51

50

-22

Opinion Polls

37

46

35

32

+11

Racial minorities

35

53

22

36

+31

Non-profit organizations

27

34

16

32

+18

Public opinion

13

16

15

10

+1

Small business

5

*

7

3

-7

*Signifies less than 1%

Methodology

The Harris Poll® was conducted by telephone within the United States between April 12 and 18, 2011 among a nationwide cross section of 1,010 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, size of place (urbanicity), and number of phone lines voice/telephone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling are subject to, multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

J40111

Q805

The Harris Poll ® #65, June 1, 2011

By Regina Corso, SVP, Harris Poll, Public Relations and Youth Research, Harris Interactive