Mar 6, 2019

America's least favorite company is the U.S. government

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

For 20 years, Harris Poll has been measuring the reputations of the most high-profile American companies. This year, for the first time, people mentioned the U.S. government as a "company" that they think about — and they hate it.

Why it matters: The fact that people would bring it up unprompted — and then give it the lowest score of the 100 companies on the list — suggests that Americans aren't just unimpressed with their government. They think it's a toxic waste dump.

  • That's the biggest surprise of this year's Axios Harris Poll 100, a new partnership between Axios and Harris Poll.
  • The U.S. government was near the bottom in all of the categories the poll uses to calculate the score — especially on ethics, trust, culture, vision and citizenship.
  • No partisan divide on this one: Republicans ranked the government #95 out of the 100 companies, Democrats ranked it #98, and independents put it dead last.

Between the lines: It's not any one disaster that caused this. Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema says it's the endless barrage of bad political news — from the Russia investigation to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings to the fights over President Trump's border wall.

  • "They're just fed up — fed up with the shutdowns, the subpoenas, the wall," Gerzema said. "It comes out as one perpetual negative news cycle ... [that] really drives down your reputation."
  • It's amplified by constant coverage on cable news and social media.
  • And it affects all three branches of government, Gerzema said — the executive branch with the investigations, Congress with the shutdowns, and the judiciary with the Kavanaugh hearings.

But Trump is at the center of most of this. None of these storylines would have happened without him.

  • It's not like Congress suddenly got worse than it's been over the last 20 years — it was already at rock bottom.
  • Same with the federal bureaucracies. We've been through wars and government shutdowns. Bill Clinton even got impeached.
  • And think of it this way: the U.S. government ranked just two slots below the Trump Organization. (Its overall score was 48.6 out of 100, compared to 50.1 for the Trump Organization.)

There's bad news for actual companies, too. Facebook's ranking took a big hit. So did Tesla. Twitter showed up on the list for the first time, and it's near the bottom.

  • But there's great news for Samsung and Sony, both of which moved way up in the rankings since last year.
  • The top five: Wegman's, Amazon, Patagonia, L.L. Bean, and Walt Disney — all of which were rated highly on qualities like vision, growth, trajectory, character and ethics.
  • Rounding out the bottom five: Wells Fargo, Sears, and Phillip Morris.

The bottom line: The U.S. government has a worse reputation than a bank with a fake accounts scandal, a failing retail chain, and a tobacco company. It's going to take years to recover from that.

Go deeper: Check out all 100 company scores.

Methodology: The Axios Harris Poll 100 survey was conducted November through January in a nationally representative sample. One group, 6,118 U.S. adults, was asked to identify the two companies they believe have the best and worst reputations. Then, the 100 “most visible companies” were ranked by a second group of 18,228 adults across key measures of corporate reputation.

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