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. 

Follow Emily Ekins on Twitter @emilyekins