Americans Favor Private Competitive Firms Over Public Institutions

A new Reason-Rupe Poll of 1,200 adults on cell phones and landlines finds 76 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of their banks and just 15 percent view them unfavorably. In contrast, only 32 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the federal government and 62 percent view it unfavorably.

State governments are more popular than the federal government, but only half of all Americans view them positively. As you get closer to home, 58 percent of Americans have positive views of their local government and the same number look upon their local school district favorably.

The survey finds people feel a lot better about private businesses. For example, 88 percent of Americans have a positive view of their grocery store; 73 percent look favorably upon their cell phone maker; and 69 percent say they view their Internet service provider favorably.

For each of the following entities, please tell me if your impression is very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable. If you don’t know enough to give your feelings, just say so. 

These results suggest several things about what Americans care about. First, Americans tend to hold higher opinions of private institutions than public institutions. Second, Americans tend to prefer firms that tailor products and services to them individually and have a presence locally in the community. Third, Americans tend to prefer institutions that allow them to choose between firms; for example, it’s quite easy to switch between grocery stores and banks, but it becomes more difficult to switch Internet service providers (as governments often divvy up company coverage by neighborhood). It is even more difficult, but possible, to switch your child’s school. One would have to move to switch local governments, would have to move even further to switch state governments. Finally, it is extraordinarily difficult to switch federal governments.

One could make the case that less competition among these latter firms results in them offering less attractive services and products. Nevertheless, further research is needed to more credibly assert the causes between favorability toward private and public institutions.

Find full Reason-Rupe Q4 2011 poll results, question wording, and methodology here.

The Reason-Rupe Q4 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from December 1-13. Interviews were conducted on both landline and mobile phones. The margin of sampling error for this poll is +/- 3 percent. 

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  • Matrix||

    I guess I'm one of the 31% who hates their internet provider. I absolutely hate AT&T, but they are the only option I have besides satellite (not practical) dial-up (would still have to deal with AT&T) or nothing... The local cable company refuses to run a line 100 yards to our house or the rest of our neighborhood that is not connected. I would switch the moment someone else came available.

    Also have AT&T for my cell, and again... despise them. Will be switching once a 4G iPhone is released.

  • Apatheist||

    I have used ATT U-Verse for TV and Internet for 3 and half years now and I have loved it from the start. After years of Comcast and Time Warner it was a breath of fresh air and the customer service the few times I need them were good.

  • Matrix||

    They don't have uverse in my area, only 3mbps DSL, and it suuuuuuuucks!

  • PR||

    I too hate AT&T. And I too, like you, hate them the least of my available options, so it's all relative.

  • Apatheist||

    I'm just point out that ATT doesn't always suck. Kinda weird though it did seem like the U-Verse customer service people were separate and the guys who actually came out for service were all contracted out.

    I did quickly leave ATT Wireless after they bought my Cingular service.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Finally, it is extraordinarily difficult to switch federal governments.

    Even with means, Alec Baldwin found that to be the case.

  • Juice||

    These are scary times for progressive Americans. Many feel isolated and embarrassed by the actions of our government. Some are downright terrified at what will happen if Bush is re-elected in November.

    Now they're all cool with the same exact shit because a "progressive" like them is in charge. And don't you dare criticize it, racist.

  • Lewis H.||

    WalMart is still evil.

  • Sevo||

    Lewis H. is still stupid.

  • goober1223||

    Grocery store. FDA! Roads!



  • Lewis H.||

    The most important movie you will ever watch

  • Bill||

    Wow, it's has 24 parts. If it was not for that f*&^*'d up narrator I might download the full version and watch it. I hate when they use the "spooky" voice technique.

  • Paul||

    I like that opening sequence with the board members watching George W. Bush speak on the screen. I wonder what the filmmakers were trying to say with that? Wouldn't it be more relevant to have them watching Barack Obama?

  • Paul||

    Meh, it was made in 2007, so yeah, way out of date and completely irrelevant.

  • Paul||

    I have a question: How are people going to escape corrupt political institutions, entrenched government power and public graft if the train doesn't go where they want to go?

  • Restoras||

    Blow up the train?

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Commenters Favor Witty Alt-text Over Empty Pictures.

  • robc||

    I can choose my bank, Im not staying with one that screws me over, so of course I like my bank.

    I cant choose my government.

    And my internet provider and cable provider and phone providers are somewhere in between, due to differing levels of government created monopolies.

  • robc||

    Reading the text now, I see my point was covered.


  • Jam||

    Actually, the way this is being reported isn't necassarily accurate. This is a select list of institutions, not the universe, so one xannot draw the conclusion Reason has. And looking specifically at the banking question, two things should be considered. First, were respondents asked if they use a bank or credit union? This is important because the average person does not necessarily distinguish between the two, so numbers may not be actually reflective of attitudes towards banks. Second, and much more importsntly, saying one is happy with their bank is absolutely NOT the same as approving of the entire financial services industry as Reason is reprorting. Additionally, add in that the assumption is madenthat people are using a single type of bank, and the reported resukts are even more questionable. At best, this is a poorly designed survey being reported in a very misleading and inaccurate way.

  • Apatheist||

    If you don't like your bank you can change banks or use no bank. If you don't like bank investing services you can change bank investing services. If you don't like your government then it becomes increasingly difficult to change as you go from local to federal and there is no opt out option.

    If you problem with the "entire financial services industry" is with the way big government and big business collude then from the above you should see that the problem is government. With less power and money the government wouldn't have any favors to divy out to big business.

  • Sevo||

    "saying one is happy with their bank is absolutely NOT the same as approving of the entire financial services industry as Reason is reprorting."

    Where is Reason 'reporting' that?

  • johnc||

    A pretty selective list of institutions. I see individual items like "local grocery" and "local bank", but not "my congressman" or even "my senator" (i.e, my "local branch" of the federal government). I don't see individual agencies like "Medicare", "Social Security", "food stamps", "unemployment insurance", "agricultural subsidies", "the military", or "the interstate highway system".

    Conversely, I don't see "national banks" or "national food chains" (which seems analogous to "the federal government").

    And how exactly do I have "less competition" in my local school system (which includes both public and private schools, and the ability to move between towns with moderate ease) than in my internet service provider (which consists of a tiny number of national entities)?

    If I live in a rural area do I really have "more competition" in banks (there may be one within twenty miles) than in cell phone makers (which I can choose from dozens and order over the internet)?

    I mean, they sorted by approval and rewrote the axis to imply a pattern that is incredibly subjective. Take out "federal and state government" and there's no pattern at all.

  • Sevo||

    "Conversely, I don't see "national banks" or "national food chains" (which seems analogous to "the federal government").

    Read the article.

  • Gimlet||

    Examples of wasteful spending highlighted in “Wastebook 2011” include:

    • $75,000 to promote awareness about the role Michigan plays in producing Christmas trees & poinsettias.

    • $15.3 million for one of the infamous Bridges to Nowhere in Alaska.

    • $113,227 for video game preservation center in New York.

    • $550,000 for a documentary about how rock music contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    • $48,700 for 2nd annual Hawaii Chocolate Festival, to promote Hawaii’s chocolate industry.

    • $350,000 to support an International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy.

    • $10 million for a remake of “Sesame Street” for Pakistan.

    • $35 million allocated for political party conventions in 2012.

    • $765,828 to subsidize “pancakes for yuppies” in the nation’s capital.

    • $764,825 to study how college students use mobile devices for social networking.

  • ||

    Transparency goes hand in hand with choice. I can see all of the items I paid my grocery store; no hidden fees. Stores that make it too complicated by giving the posted prices only to people who sign up for their stupid card (I'm looking at you Safeway), and generally make things less transparent, I don't like to shop with so yay! I choose a less tricksy store.

    My cable bill and to a lesser extent cellphone bill are much less easy to cipher. Why does my Comcast bill keep changing (usually going up)? And when it comes to my tax dollars, it's anyone's guess how those are getting wasted on any given day. Actually, governments should send us bills stating exactly what each individual taxpayer's money bought in a given year.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I avoid card based grocery stores almost as fiercely as I avoid hippy organic grocery stores.

  • robc||


  • Half Sigma||

    This is a poorly designed poll because people are asked to distinguish between specific banks they do business with verse the abstract concept of government.

    Why not ask how they feel about specific government agencies such as the Army or the Navy (people will probably rate that very highly) or the Department of Motor Vehicles (which I suspect sucks in many counties, but I think there has been improvement from a decade go) or the Fire Department?


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