Poll: Public Holds Negative Opinion of Corporate Leadership

According to The Harris Poll’s Reputation Quotient Ratings, half of all people surveyed hold a negative opinion of CEOs and other top staff members—with differences showing up among age groups and political leanings.

Could your C-suite title prove a turnoff to a big chunk of the American public?

Based on recent research from The Harris Poll, the title may prove more controversial than you might expect. According to the company’s most recent Reputation Quotient Ratings, half of all Americans rate the reputations of CEOs and other top leaders as “bad,” with just a quarter of Americans calling CEOs “good” and 26 percent neutral. The report focused mostly on for-profit leadership but could offer some interesting lessons for nonprofit pros.

According to the 23,000 people surveyed, the things that organizations might desire out of modern leadership—like boldness and a willingness to take risks—are less important to the public than leaders who can be trusted and are accountable for their mistakes.

Wendy Salomon, The Harris Poll’s vice president of reputation management and public affairs, noted that this reflects the need for a certain kind of leadership.

“When an astounding half of the country thinks CEOs and business leaders have bad reputations, that’s a major issue,” Salomon said in a news release. “Consumers first and foremost look for human decency traits—trust, accountability, ethics, competency, respect. The public isn’t looking for a cowboy CEO; it’s not about brazen, visible risk-takers. They seek a more measured individual in the leadership seat.”

The poll numbers highlighted differences in opinion among political parties (Republicans had higher opinions of CEOs than did Democrats and independents) and age groups (millennials had particularly positive opinions of CEOs, while baby boomers tended to be more negative). Another notable area of difference is with media industry CEOs; Republicans tended to have very negative opinions, and Democrats had far more positive opinions.

Considering the political split, does that mean that organizations should step into political debates? Harris Poll research from February was mixed—while 51 percent of consumers said they expected companies to have a stance on political issues, 59 percent said understanding corporate political stances wasn’t that important. A separate report, also released in February, noted the effects of politicization on specific brands, like Target and Chick-Fil-A.

The company’s Reputational Quotient poll, in its 18th year, found that Amazon was the most respected company in the country, with two supermarkets—Wegmans and Publix—directly behind.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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