Very Large Majorities Of Americans Believe Big Companies, PACs, Political Lobbyists and the News Media Have Too Much Power and Influence in D.C.

Nine in Ten Americans, However, Believe Small Business has Too Little Power and Influence in D.C.

ROCHESTER, N.Y.--()--When one thinks of Washington D.C. and the power corridors, smoke filled rooms and shady deals with lobbyists may come to mind. There are certain groups in particular which are singled out by large majorities of the American public as having too much power in those corridors. Leading the list are big companies, as 86 percent of Americans say they have too much power and influence in Washington. These are followed by Political Action Committees (PACs), which give money to political candidates; 83 percent of Americans cite them as having too much power and influence.

Four in five Americans (80%) say political lobbyists have too much power, while almost three-quarters (74%) say the same about the news media. Rounding out the top five are entertainment and sports celebrities, as over two-thirds (69%) of Americans believe they have too much power and influence in D.C. This is actually the first time celebrities have been included on this list and they start off right in the top five to being too powerful in Washington.

Looking at this from the other side of the spectrum, 90 percent of Americans believe that small business has too little power and influence in Washington. Large majorities also believe public opinion (74%) and nonprofit organizations (65%) have too little power and influence.

These are some of the results of a Harris Poll of 1,010 adults surveyed by telephone between February 5 and 11, 2008 by Harris Interactive®.

Who Else Has Power and Influence?

In addition to PACs and big companies, there are three other institutions which majorities of the public believe have too much power TV and radio talk shows (57%), trade associations (57%) and labor unions (51%). Looking at the reverse side of the issue, just over half of the public believes racial minorities (51%) and churches and religious groups (52%) all have too little power and influence in Washington. Interestingly, the public seems to be split on one policy influencer: opinion polls. Maybe people are just overwhelmed with the number of opinion polls in this election year, but 46 percent say they have too little power and influence while 44 percent say they have too much.

Changes over Time

There some interesting things to note when comparing this year to 1994, the first year The Harris Poll asked this question. First, PACs have seen a five point decrease in the number of people saying they have too much power. Perhaps this is a sign Americans perceive the legislative ethics and campaign finance changes as doing some good. Opinion polls have see a seven point increase since 1994 in those saying they have too much power and a six point increase since just last year.

When looking at some of the other long-term changes between 1994 and 2007, the biggest changes are:

  • A eight-point decline from 82 to 74 percent in those who think that public opinion has too little power and influence;
  • A six-point increase from 51 to 57 percent in those who think that TV and radio talk shows have too much power and influence and a five-point decrease from 37 to 32 percent in those who say TV and radio talk shows have too little power and influence;
  • A five point decrease from 79 to 74 percent in those who think that the news media has too much power and influence;
  • A six point increase from 14 to 20 percent in those who think public opinion has too much power and influence;
  • A five-point decline from 38 to 33 percent in those who think that racial minorities have too much influence.

Differences between the Views of Republicans, Democrats and Independents

Republicans, Democrats and Independents tend to agree on certain issues related to power and influence in Washington. Over 80 percent of all three groups believe that PACs have too much power and influence (83%, 84% and 89%, respectively). Furthermore, similar numbers of Republicans and Democrats believe TV and radio talk shows (55% and 59% respectively) and Trade associations (57% and 55% respectively) have too much power and influence. Only four percent of all three party groups think small business has too much power and influence in D.C.

However, there are also some large differences. Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe that labor unions have too much power (65% vs. 39%). They are also more likely to think that racial minorities (43% vs. 23%), opinion polls (51% vs. 37%), and the news media (80% vs. 69%) have too much power.

Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely than Republicans to only think two groups have too much power and influence -- churches and religious organization (48% vs. 28%) and big companies (91% vs. 80%).

TABLE 1
GROUPS SEEN AS HAVING TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE POWER AND
INFLUENCE IN WASHINGTON

"And now a question about the power of different groups in influencing government policy, politicians, and policy makers in Washington. Do you think (READ EACH ITEM) have/has too much or too little power and influence in Washington?"

 

Base: All Adults
       
  Too

Much

  Too Little   About Right   Not Sure/

Refused

  %   %   %   %
Big companies   86   8   2   3
Political action committees which give money to political candidates   83   9   2   5
Political lobbyists   80   13   1   6
The news media   74   17   4   6
Entertainment and Sports celebrities   69   20   4   7
TV and radio talk shows   57   32   5   7
Trade Associations   57   24   4   15
Labor unions   51   39   4   6
Opinion polls   44   46   4   7
Churches & religious groups   40   52   4   5
Racial minorities   33   51   5   11
Nonprofit organizations   23   65   4   8
Public opinion   20   74   3   4
Small business   4   90   3   3

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100 percent due to rounding.

TABLE 2
GROUPS SEEN AS HAVING TOO MUCH POWER - TRENDS 1994-2008

"And now a question about the power of different groups in influencing government policy, politicians, and policy makers in Washington. Do you think (READ EACH ITEM) have/has too much or too little power and influence in Washington?"

Percent saying "too much"
Base: All Adults
  1994   1999   2000   2001   2002   2003   2004   2005   2007   2008   Change Since 1994
%   %   %   %   %   %   %   %   %   %   %
Big companies 86   82   84   86   87   80   83   90   84   86   -
Political action committees which give money to political candidates 88   83   83   83   83   78   81   85   85   83   -5
Political lobbyists 79   75   74   71   70   69   72   74   79   80   +1
The news media 79   81   77   77   72   72   71   68   71   74   -5
Entertainment and sports celebrities n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   69   n/a
TV and radio talk shows 51   54   54   57   47   54   54   51   54   57   +6
Trade Associations n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   61   52   57   n/a
Labor unions 46   42   39   44   46   45   48   43   47   51   +5
Opinion polls 37   36   35   38   33   33   36   33   38   44   +7
Churches & religious groups n/a   n/a   27   28   31   27   32   35   38   40   n/a
Racial minorities 38   31   32   30   27   20   31   28   32   33   -5
Nonprofit organizations n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   23   18   23   n/a
Public opinion 14   21   15   14   15   19   18   16   17   20   +6
Small business 4   3   5   5   5   4   5   4   6   4   -

- no change

TABLE 3
GROUPS SEEN AS HAVING TOO LITTLE POWER - TRENDS 1994-2008

"And now a question about the power of different groups in influencing government policy, politicians, and policy makers in Washington. Do you think (READ EACH ITEM) have/has too much or too little power and influence in Washington?"

Percent saying "too little"
Base: All Adults
                   
  1994   1999   2000   2001   2002   2003   2004   2005   2007   2008   Change Since 1994
%   %   %   %   %   %   %   %   %   %   %
Big companies 9   8   6   6   5   10   9   5   11   8   -1
Political action committees which give money to political candidates 8   8   7   6   7   12   11   10   11   9   +1
Political lobbyists 13   12   12   13   11   15   16   17   14   13   -
The news media 13   9   8   10   14   17   18   23   20   17   +4
Entertainment and sports celebrities n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   20   n/a
TV and radio talk shows 37   29   24   23   29   29   28   34   31   32   -5
Trade Associations n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   22   28   24   n/a
Labor unions 43   41   40   37   35   37   37   46   42   39   -4
Opinion polls 52   49   44   41   49   48   47   53   49   46   -6
Churches & religious groups n/a   n/a   52   56   51   53   53   55   51   52   n/a
Racial minorities 51   52   50   51   51   59   54   58   54   51   -
Nonprofit organizations n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   n/a   67   68   65   n/a
Public opinion 82   74   74   73   75   69   72   78   74   74   -8
Small business 92   85   85   88   87   88   88   92   90   90   -2

- no change

TABLE 4
GROUPS SEEN AS HAVING TOO MUCH POWER - BY PARTY ID

"And now a question about the power of different groups in influencing government policy, politicians, and policy makers in Washington. Do you think . . . have/has too much or too little power and influence in Washington?"

Percent saying "too much"
Base: All Adults
    All Adults   Party ID  

Difference between Republicans and Democrats

  Republican   Democrat   Independent
  %   %   %   %   %
Big companies   86   80   91   91   -11
Political action committees which give money to political candidates   83   83   84   89   -1
Political lobbyists   80   81   77   86   +4
The news media   74   80   69   75   +11
Entertainment and Sports celebrities   69   71   66   74   +5
TV and radio talk shows   57   55   59   60   -4
Trade Associations   57   57   55   57   +2
Labor unions   51   65   39   56   +26
Opinion polls   44   51   37   46   +14
Churches & religious groups   40   28   48   43   -20
Racial minorities   33   43   23   33   +20
Nonprofit organizations   23   27   21   21   +6
Public opinion   20   23   18   20   +5
Small business   4   4   4   4   0

Methodology

The Harris Poll® was conducted by telephone within the United States between February 5 and 11, 2008 among a nationwide cross section of 1,010 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, size of place (urbanicity), and number of phone lines voice/telephone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling are subject to ,multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100 percent response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal. These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

J33084, Q806

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is a global leader in custom market research. With a long and rich history in multimodal research, powered by our science and technology, we assist clients in achieving business results. Harris Interactive serves clients globally through our North American, European and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms.

Harris Interactive Inc. 3/08

Contacts

Harris Interactive
Tracey McNerney, 585-214-7756

Sharing

Contacts

Harris Interactive
Tracey McNerney, 585-214-7756