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How Americans view institutions, big and small

A worker at Sohn's French Cleaners presses shirts in San Francisco, Calif. Gallup data has found that Americans view small businesses -- like the local corner store or drycleaners -- favorably.

Jeff Horwich: Let's try our luck now with our weekly partnership with Gallup -- we call it Attitude Check. As always, here now is Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. Good morning, Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Horwich: So Gallup's been asking Americans about our confidence in various institutions. And at the very top is the military -- no big surprise there. In second place: small business. And -- this is where it gets interesting -- way down near the bottom: big business. Why do you think Americans have so much more love for small business compared to the big variety.

Newport: That's a fascinating question, and it's a huge difference -- it's about 42 points on our rating scale of confidence on just that one word: small vs. big. We also know the same thing happens in terms of government; we like our local government and we're very distrustful about the federal government on a relative basis.

Why that's the case, we don't know for sure. We just know that historically, Americans think small is great. So the advice to big business CEOs listening right now: make your business appear small. How's that for advice?

Horwich: According to the small business administration, for example, a small business has up to 500 or even 1,500 employees, depending on the sector. What do you think Americans think small means in this context anyway?

Newport: I think they're thinking of the grocery store on the corner, or the drycleaner, the hardware store. You know, one anomaly here is that Americans really love the computer industry. When we do separate rankings of industry sectors, that's the top. And of course, a lot of the computer companies are huge these days -- like Facebook and Apple and Microsoft. But maybe when people think of those, they think of Steve Jobs in his garage, or Mark Zuckerberg in his dorm room at Harvard, and they still of those as small even though they're huge.

Horwich: Since you raise that question of industries, what kind of sectors do Americans dislike?

Newport: Oil and gas is at the bottom -- along with, I should say, the federal government, which is dead last. You've got the computer industry at the top; oil and gas at the bottom. Yet the valuation, at least, of Apple has been as big, or bigger, than Exxon Mobil and other companies. They're seen as big, computer companies -- hey, they're small and we like them.

Horwich: If they can make themselves look like small "mom and pop" oil and gas companies, maybe then they're onto something, huh?

Newport: Yeah, I had the thought that maybe the gas companies should emphasize the gas stations on the corner, right? Look how small we are. And that's what they should put in their ads.

Horwich: Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. Thanks very much.

Newport: My pleasure.

 

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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