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Half of Americans Now View Auto Industry Positively

Half of Americans Now View Auto Industry Positively

by Art Swift
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 50% view auto industry positively, consistent with recent years
  • Young Americans' views similar to national average
  • Democrats more likely than GOP to view industry positively

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Half of Americans view the auto industry positively, the highest since 2003. Ratings of the industry have been fairly stable in recent years after recovering from a sharp downturn after the 2007-2009 recession and subsequent government bailout and recovery.


The auto industry's sales have risen since the Obama administration cemented a deal to bail out GM and Chrysler in 2009. Since then, U.S. auto sales have climbed from 10.4 million automobiles in 2009 to an estimated 17.5 million automobiles in 2015, the best year on record. The sales in the last two years have been buoyed by lower gas prices in the U.S. and the subsequent increase in the sales of higher-priced SUVs and trucks. Amid these developments, 23% of Americans rate the industry negatively, down significantly from 59% in 2009. This places the auto industry's image eighth among 25 industries Gallup measures.

Younger Americans' Views of Auto Industry Match National Average

Much has been written about younger Americans, millennials namely, being uninterested in buying cars. There may not be much truth to that recently since in 2015, millennials were second to baby boomers as the largest segment buying an automobile, according to industry estimates. Earlier in the decade, the industry said millennials were buying far fewer cars as a result of the economy and members of the age group getting their licenses later.

Regardless of their purchasing behavior, millennials' views of the auto industry over the past 15 years have been as positive or more positive than those who were older. Young adults were more positive than their elders from 2001-2005 and from 2008-2009, while their attitudes about the auto industry over the past four years are now about on par with others.

Americans' Views of the Auto Industry, By Age
% Very/Somewhat positive
  2001-2005 2008-2009 2013-2016
  % % %
18-34 52 34 51
35-54 42 22 46
55 and older 45 25 51

Democrats, Republicans Differ on Positive Views of Auto Industry

Democrats (53%) have had a more positive view of the auto industry over the past four years than have Republicans (46%). Both political groups had a comparatively negative view of the industry during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009. From 2001-2005, when George W. Bush was president, Republicans (50%) were slightly more likely than Democrats (42%) to have a positive view of the auto industry.

Americans' Views of the Auto Industry, By Party ID
% Very/Somewhat positive
  2001-2005 2008-2009 2013-2016
  % % %
Republican/Lean Republican 50 27 46
Democrat/Lean Democratic 42 27 53

Bottom Line

Americans' views of the auto industry crashed during the Great Recession, but recovered fairly quickly. Americans' image of the industry today roughly matches what it was 15 years ago. Americans are buying cars at a record rate, many of these are more expensive large sport utility vehicles. Even though Americans' views of the industry have recovered, they are still not overwhelmingly positive.

The roots of why only half the nation views the auto industry positively may have to do with the politicized nature of the industry this decade. The auto bailout garnered great media attention when leaders were initially debating and implementing it and when President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney used it as a campaign issue in the 2012 presidential election. That may explain why a majority of Democrats have a positive view of the auto industry this decade, while a minority of Republicans see the industry the same way.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 3-7, 2016, with a random sample of 518 adults aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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