Survey: Lobbyists Are Controversial—Until You Explain What They’re Doing

The Public Affairs Council's 2014 Pulse Survey showed that the public tends to have a better opinion of the private sector than of government, though certain things remain controversial—specifically, lobbying and executive compensation.

Lobbyists get a bad rap from the public. But could a little more explanation help?

A recent study suggests so. The Public Affairs Council’s 2014 Pulse survey, conducted in June by Princeton Survey Research Associations International, found that half of the 1,607 respondents have a “less favorable” opinion of companies that hired lobbyists. While that stat is down from last year’s edition of the survey, when 57 percent of respondents held such an opinion, it nonetheless highlights an image problem for organizations that lobby the government.

One of the reasons Americans hold generally positive views about major companies is they believe these businesses handle the basics well.

But when itemized to highlight things lobbyists do—like advocate for government grants or funding, protect jobs within a company or industry, and reduce costs for the businesses—support was generally much higher. For example, 84 percent of respondents supported the idea of lobbying to protect jobs, while lobbying to reduce business costs drew support from 68 percent. Even in the case of companies advocating for government funding, 56 percent of respondents gave it their support.

“In 2012, the last time this question was asked, a majority of respondents also approved of these same reasons for lobbying; but surprisingly, support has grown since then,” the council notes on its website.

Other highlights from the study:

While most respondents believe political campaigns should be self-funded, an increasing percentage support super PAC funding as at least a minor source of funding, with 56 percent saying so in the study—an increase of 10 percent from the prior study. However, just 37 percent support federal funding for campaigns, though that number is up slightly from 2013.

Small businesses tend to garner more support from the public (91 percent) than do large companies (69 percent), though overall, the view of business is positive. “One of the reasons Americans hold generally positive views about major companies is they believe these businesses handle the basics well,” the council notes. “The public thinks major companies are doing a good job providing useful products and serving their customers and stockholders.” But they had more negative opinions of company performance on issues of executive compensation and job creation.

For respondents, ethical issues matter immensely, with 84 percent saying that it’s “very important” for businesses to ensure their employees behave ethically. With support for state and federal government tending to be lower than support for the private sector, respondents looked to businesses to help provide solutions to social issues like healthcare and education.

Tech firms tend to draw higher levels of trust than most other sectors of the economy, with 27 percent of respondents finding them more trustworthy. Financial institutions (19 percent) and manufacturing companies (18 percent) also did well in the survey, but firms focused on healthcare (12 percent) and automobiles (13 percent) struggled in comparison. A full 50 percent of respondents found healthcare firms less trustworthy than other companies.

Check out highlights from the study on the Public Affairs Council’s website.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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