Taking Stock of Business

The full text of this study is available as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

Polling data on confidence in business, confidence in Wall Street, executive pay and bonuses, attitudes toward regulation, and prestige, honesty, and trust. Updated May 18, 2010.

How's Business?

  • Positive confidence in business took a hit in 2008, although it has never been high. In Harris polling, only 11% in 2008 said they had a great deal of confidence in the people in charge of running major companies and 35% had hardly any. There has been slight recovery in 2010 (15% great deal, 27% hardly any).
  • Views about the honesty and ethics of businesspeople continue to be low. Most say their employers are honest.
  • People have long been ambivalent about regulation, believing on the one hand that it is necessary and that it frequently does more harm than good. There does not appear to be more support for regulation of business in general now. Today there is more support than opposition for somewhat greater financial regulation.
  • Americans think many people are overpaid including CEOs. They are unhappy and even angry about CEO bonuses. Most people do not want Congress to pass laws regulating CEO pay in general, but they do support government regulation of salaries at firms that have accepted government funds.
  • Even with the financial crisis, more people see big government as the biggest threat to the country in the future than see big business that way (55% government, 32% business). The number who see big business as the greatest threat, however, is the highest point since the question was first asked in 1954. (Gallup)
  • Solid majorities still believe that the strength of this country today is mostly based on the success of American business (76%). (Pew)
  • People are well disposed toward free enterprise (86%), entrepreneurs (84%), and capitalism (61%). Big business (49%), the federal government (46%), and socialism (36%) fare less well. (Gallup)
  • 85% think big companies have too much power and influence in Washington. This has been remarkably stable for the past 15 years. (Harris)

Wall Street

  • In 2009, 71% said people on Wall Street would be willing to break the law if they believed they could make a lot of money and get away with it. In 2010, 66% said they would. (Harris)
  • In the positive economic times of the late 1990s, a bare majority said people on Wall Street deserved to make the kind of money they earned. Today, 29% agree. (Harris)
  • The public favors stricter regulation of Wall Street, though support for greater regulation appears to be down from earlier points during the financial crisis. In a 2010 CBS News/New York Times poll, 56 % (down from 71% in April 2009) favored increased government regulation of banks and financial institutions. 54% favored increased regulation in a CNN/ORC poll in March 2010.

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at AEI. Andrew Rugg is a research assistant at AEI.

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About the Author


  • Karlyn Bowman compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data on a variety of subjects, including the economy, taxes, the state of workers in America, environment and global warming, attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage, NAFTA and free trade, the war in Iraq, and women's attitudes. In addition, Ms. Bowman has studied and spoken about the evolution of American politics because of key demographic and geographic changes. She has often lectured on the role of think tanks in the United States and writes a weekly column for Forbes.com.
  • Phone: 2028625910
    Email: kbowman@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Andrew Rugg
    Phone: 2028625917
    Email: andrew.rugg@aei.org



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