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Big Drop since Last Year in Reputation of Car Manufacturers, Investment and Brokerage Firms, and Banks



ROCHESTER, N.Y.--Every year, The Harris Poll asks a cross-section of adults whether they think about 20 leading industries do a good or a bad job of serving their consumers. The latest poll finds very big changes in the last 12 months. Some industries have seen their reputations crumble. Some show modest slippage. A few show significant improvement.

These are some of the results from The Harris Poll, a new study of 1,010 U.S. adults surveyed by telephone between July 8 and 13, 2009 by Harris Interactive. While the question asks how good or bad different industries are at serving their consumers, our experience suggests that the answers reflect a somewhat broader picture of how the public feels overall about these industries.

Unsurprisingly, the industries whose reputations have been most badly hurt in the last 12 months are car manufacturers (down 31 points), banks (down 24 points), and investment and brokerage firms (down 27 points).

In light of the current debate about health care reform it is interesting to note that health insurance companies (down 10 points) and pharmaceutical companies (down six points) have also slipped while hospitals have improved by six points. Interestingly, life insurance companies improved (up 12 points) while health insurance lost ground.

Industries that are most likely to be thought of as doing a good job

Supermarkets, hospitals, online search engines, packaged food companies, and computer companies enjoy the best reputation for serving their consumers. The percentage of adults who think they are doing a good job are 92% for supermarkets, 78% for hospitals, 76% for online search engines and 72% for packaged food, computer hardware and software companies.

Industries that are most likely to be thought of as doing a bad job

The most unpopular industries, using this measure, are tobacco, oil, managed care, and health insurance. These are the only industries on the list used in the survey where more than half of all adults believe they are doing a bad job: tobacco companies (63% doing a bad job), oil companies (60%), health insurance (58%) and managed care (54%).

Other industries with relatively high negative ratings include investment and brokerage firms (46%), car manufacturers (45%), pharmaceuticals (45%), banks (38%), and cable companies (37%).

Industries that are doing better this year

Airlines show a bigger improvement this year than any other industry. Tobacco (while still at the bottom of the list), life insurance, and computer hardware companies have also improved.

The score used to measure changes over time, since Harris first asked these questions in 1997, is the number of adults saying “good job” for each industry minus those saying “bad job. Using this measure, airlines are up 16 points, from 18 to 34 (which is still far lower than their score of 66 in 1998), life insurance is up 12 points, from 26 to 38, and tobacco companies are up 11 points, from minus 43 to minus 32.

Industries that are doing worse this year

The biggest declines using the same measure (those saying "good job” minus those saying “bad job”) are for car manufacturers, and investment and brokerage firms. The car manufacturers’ score has dropped 31 points from 37 to 6. Banks are down 24 points from 46 to 22. Investment and brokerage firms are down 27 points from 24 to minus 3.

Other industries that have slipped include health insurance (down 10 points), Internet service providers (down 7 points), and pharmaceuticals (down 6 points).

So What?

Events matter. The collapse of General Motors and Chrysler has battered the reputation of car manufacturers. The economic crisis, the collapse of the housing and stock markets, and the rise of unemployment have had a dramatic impact on the reputation of banks and investment and brokerage firms.

The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries have probably suffered because of the criticisms directed at them in the health care reform debate. Airlines, the biggest winner this year after huge declines in 2007 and 2008, may have benefited from reduced traffic and less crowded airports.

Why tobacco companies should have gained is more difficult to explain. Maybe they just haven’t been in the news much – and for them no news is almost always good news.

The Harris Poll #90,
By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll


This Harris Poll was conducted by telephone within the United States between July 7 and 14, 2009 among 1,010 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, number of phone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Full data tables and methodology are available at

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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