Attitude Check

Attitude Check: Who do you trust?

Kai Ryssdal Dec 14, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: The topic of the day today for our new partnership with Gallup — Attitude Check, in which we find out what the American people really think about things — is honesty. Which profession or industry we think is the most honest. Nurses are number one. Journalists, for those who are interested, rank between funeral directors and real estate agents.

On the broader topics of the relative honesty of government versus big business, well, members of Congress are among the lowest, right down there with lobbyists and car salesmen. Business as a whole does a bit better.

Here to talk about what it all means is Gallup’s editor in chief Frank Newport. Frank, good to talk to you again.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: So let me take those honesty figures and turn them a little bit sideways, and ask you if we can interpret them to mean who we dislike more: Big business versus big government? Is that a fair juxtaposition?

Newport: I think it can be looked at in that fashion, because we actually, Kai, have some separate questions where we’ve asked just that. We didn’t say: Do you like or dislike big government or big business? But one of the questions we’ve been asking long before my time since the ’60s is: What’s the biggest threat to the country, the future of the country — big business, big government or big labor? And when we asked it that way, big government right now overwhelms everybody else: 64 percent of Americans say that’s the biggest threat and business is way down there, just 26 percent.

Ryssdal: Let me take that then and run with it and say: If Occupy Wall Street, which does not favor big business, and the Tea Party, which does not favor big government — if they were to have some face-off in the next political year, as is entirely possible, what would that look like? Who would win, if you will?

Newport: All of our data suggests that the Tea Party would win, and I say that because we have data point after data point showing just how worried Americans are about government; at the low esteem they hold government, how as we just talked about, they think big government is a threat. The image of the federal government, those three words — the federal government — is below any other business and industry sector we test, including the oil and gas industry and real estate which have typically been very low. People don’t have any love lost for big business, but any time we look at comparable measures, we find right now Americans are more worried about big government, I would say, which is the Tea Party theme to some degree, than they are big business, which is Occupy Wall Street.

Ryssdal: Right. But I was intrigued by the next line item in your survey — the results of which I saw anyway, the brief that I saw — which is that people basically don’t think it makes a difference as to what’s going to happen in this country, whether a Democrat or Republican is elected.

Newport: Well that was very specific about solving the country’s economic problems, because all of our data show, as you well know, that that’s the dominant problem that’s going to be in the election this year. All our data show that as the number one issue. So we said: Does it make a difference? And actually, major difference: less than half, just in the 40 percent of Americans say major difference, which means the majority of Americans say whether it’s a Democrat or Republican at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., it’s going to be a minor or no difference at all, in terms of solving the country’s economic problems.

Ryssdal: You guys don’t measure this sort of stuff — or maybe you do — what will it say about turnout next fall? If people just go ‘eh, it doesn’t matter’?

Newport: Well, people have cynical for quite a while, so we’ll have to see. What it really reports to us who look at political data means is there’s going to be differential turnout, and typically the people on the outs — that would be the Tea Party, the conservatives who are most worried about who’s in — are more motivated. We saw that in 2010, so our early predictions now are that the Republicans are going to have a turnout advantage because they’ve got more of the anger on their part than the Democrats.

Ryssdal: Frank Newport, the editor in chief at Gallup. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: You bet.

Ryssdal: Our partnership with Gallup is called Attitude Check. You can check out the numbers behind this story here.

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