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Attitude Check

Big government v. big business

Frank Newport Jan 19, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: So Rick Perry’s out. It seems Rick Santorum was the actual winner in Iowa. In South Carolina, Newt Gingrich is gaining ground. Mitt Romney’s trying really hard to not talk about his taxes.

But whoever eventually wins the Republican nomination, one main theme of the rest of the campaign’s already pretty clear: It’s going to be big corporation versus big government. And so the winner might well hinge on what the American people really think about that.

We talk to Frank Newport every week — he’s the editor in chief of Gallup — for a segment we call Attitude Check. Frank, good to talk to you again.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: So we have federal government, we have big business obviously in this country — they both elicit strong emotions. When you asked around, which did people like more?

Newport: It’s pick your poison, is the way I would look at it. Americans don’t like either. Twenty-nine percent are satisfied with the federal government, 30 percent are satisfied with the size and power of major corporations. Which means for politicians who are criticizing just one, you have to be careful because Americans don’t have any love lost for either of those huge entities.

Ryssdal: Can you drill down a little bit, and do you know what it is that they don’t like? Because off the top of my head, I can think of like a dozen of each.

Newport: We think the word ‘big’ is important. In other words, anything that’s large today, Americans don’t like. And of course, the government is huge. Americans just have a lot more sympathy for things that are small rather than big, and we said ‘major corporations,’ and that gives the folks a viscerally negative reaction from the average American.

Ryssdal: Does it break down along party lines in the way you’d think — Republicans generally favoring corporations and Democrats being in favor of government?

Newport: Ah, brilliant insight. Indeed, it does.

Ryssdal: That’s why I get to do the show.

Newport: Absolutely. And that fits with the rank-and-file; Republicans are much sympathetic to big corporations, and Democrats to the government. So you have to be very careful, as I mentioned, if you’re going to criticize one, you want to sneak in some criticism of the other. And by the way, Obama’s done that. You may not have noticed it, but he came out in the last week or two and said, ‘We need to consolidate these federal agencies and reduce the size of government.’ So his strategists have told him, ‘don’t just rail against big corporations, but say some negative things about government as well.’

Ryssdal: Maybe they’re reading the Gallup data, Frank, in the White House, right?

Newport: I think they do.

Ryssdal: Surely there must be parts, though, of both government and corporations that people like, right? I mean, we can’t all be downers all the time.

Newport: Absolutely. And small is beautiful. This is fascinating. We have a question we ask every year: How much confidence do you have in these institutions? We use the word ‘business.’ And we insert the adjective ‘small,’ and then we insert the adjective ‘big.’ There’s a huge difference; small business is second from the top — only the military engenders more confidence in Americans than small business. So if you’re small, that’s good. We found the same thing on government — local governments much more positively evaluated than that big federal government there in Washington.

Ryssdal: Frank Newport is the editor in chief at Gallup. The segment we do with them every week is called Attitude Check. Take a look at the data here. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: You bet.

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