- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2008

Economic worries and public uncertainty about modern life in general don’t unfold in a vacuum. There’s a price for all that free-floating angst - and American institutions and major industries are paying it.

Many are taking a hit in the reputation and image department as public annoyance grows and collective blame is cast. We’re just plain vexed, apparently.

“The proverbial pain at the pump, huge energy costs, rising grocery prices - all these things affect people’s lives directly, and in turn affects their sentiments. It’s not just ‘out there’ anymore, happening to someone else. Media coverage of all the bad news only serves to verify these feelings,” said Ann Mack, official trend spotter for advertising giant JWT in New York.

There are more villains than heroes these days, say surveys that reveal who we like and who we vilify.

Every major business sector save one has suffered in the public eye in the past year, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday.

“Ratings of all 25 business sectors included in the Gallup ratings except for the sports industry are lower now than last year,” said analyst Jeffrey M. Jones.

The worst off? Oil and gas companies lurk at the very bottom, with only 15 percent of us giving them a thumbs up. Real estate, which last year was given a positive rating by more than a third of us, now has a 16 percent favorability rating, which is a record decline, according to Gallup.

The federal government and airline industry aren’t far behind, each with 18 percent positive ratings.

Public opinion about the grocery industry, banking and retail sales have seen double-digit falls on the opinion scale. The image of auto companies, travel industries, public relations, publishing, telephone services, education, Internet concerns, the legal field, accounting and broadcast media also have been tarnished in the past 12 months.

The public hasn’t condemned everybody though. With a 60 percent favorability rating, the computer industry has preserved its public reputation, which is unchanged since last year - along with farming and agriculture (50 percent), the movie industry (25 percent) and health care (27 percent).

Still, these numbers are nothing to write home about.

“Clearly, the issues plaguing the economy are affecting the way Americans view a variety of industries, in particular the ones most closely associated with rising prices - grocery, restaurant and retail - and the mortgage crisis - banking and real estate,” Mr. Jones said.

The survey of 510 adults was conducted Aug. 7-10 and has a margin of error of five percentage points.

Also released Thursday, the Gallup “Well-Being Index” found that the number of Americans who consider themselves “thriving” has dropped from 51 percent in February to 45 percent in July, a significant decline, which the pollster attributed to “Americans’ worsening perceptions of their personal living standards.”

Between 80 percent and 90 percent of us also say the economy is getting worse, the ongoing survey found; it has polled 1,000 adults nationwide each day during 2008.

A Harris Interactive poll also has news about the flagging relationship between Americans and 20 sectors of the national marketplace.

“Three industries have seen truly massive declines in their reputations since Harris first asked these questions eleven years ago in 1997,” the survey said, pointing the finger at oil, airline and drug companies.

Tobacco companies got the worst reports, with 70 percent of the respondents saying they do a “bad job serving their customers.”

Oil companies were next on the roster, with almost two-thirds condemning their reputation. HMOs were next with a 54 percent negativity rating, followed by health insurance companies (53 percent), drug companies (41 percent) and cable companies (40 percent).

The Harris respondents were easiest on supermarkets. Despite rising prices, 90 percent of the respondents said their local grocery did a good job serving the community.

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