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Retail, Pharmaceutical Industries Slip in Public Esteem

Retail, Pharmaceutical Industries Slip in Public Esteem

Story Highlights

  • Retail’s positive score drops 11 points, mainly from Democrats
  • Pharma’s already-negative image worsens, due to Republicans
  • Restaurant and farming industries remain most popular

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans view the retail and pharmaceutical industries worse than they did a year ago, while they view the airline, travel and publishing industries a bit more favorably. These are the only meaningful changes seen across 25 U.S. business and industry sectors rated in Gallup’s annual assessment.


As a result of their latest declines, the retail and pharmaceutical industries’ positive ratings are the lowest Gallup has recorded for each in annual trends since 2001. At the same time, increases in the airline, travel and publishing industries’ ratings only push these industries close to their long-term averages.

The latest results are based on an Aug. 1-23 nationally representative telephone poll.

Record-Low Retail Rating Owed to Democrats

Over the past year, major U.S. retailers took center stage in the culture wars, while also making news for closing big-city stores and putting more merchandise behind locked glass, in response to what retailers are describing as an increase in organized retail crime.

It is against this backdrop that the retail industry’s positive rating is at a record-low 36%, while its negative rating is a record-high 28%. The resulting eight-percentage-point gap between the two perspectives is the narrowest yet for an industry that has typically been viewed more positively than negatively by double digits.


Retail’s worsened image is owed mainly to Democrats (including independents who lean Democratic), whose positive rating of the sector has declined 12 points since August 2022. Democrats’ positive rating of the retail industry (37%) is now just seven points higher than their negative rating (30%), down from a 30-point positive advantage last year.

Republicans’ (including Republican-leaning independents’) views of the retail industry haven’t changed significantly over the past two years, but this follows a sharp decline in 2021.


Pharma Viewed Increasingly Worse, Especially by Republicans

The latest deterioration in the pharmaceutical industry’s positive score accentuates its already-negative image. Currently, 18% of Americans have a positive view of it and 60% a negative view, with 21% feeling neutral.


The pharmaceutical industry’s decline over the past year is the result of a 13-point drop in Republicans’ positive score, from 26% to 13%. This spans a period when some leading Republicans and conservative figures have been critical of the pharmaceutical industry generally, and of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots specifically.

Republicans’ positive rating of the industry had surged to 45% in 2020 as pharmaceutical companies worked with the Trump administration to accelerate the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. Even before that, Republicans’ positive view of the industry averaged 37% (from 2001 to 2019), nearly three times the current level. Democrats’ ratings of pharma averaged 31% across the same period, only slightly higher than today.


Republicans’ Ongoing Negativity Toward Education, Sports and Communications

Not all of the notable findings in this year’s poll relate to downturns in partisans’ industry ratings. In several cases, a lack of improvement in Republicans’ views is also important because it indicates that negative shifts that occurred in recent years persist.

  • Education: As Gallup has seen in other indicators, Republicans’ assessment of the education industry shifted markedly between 2020 and 2021, turning from a modestly net-positive view to a deeply net-negative view. And there has since been no meaningful improvement.
  • Sports: Republicans’ view of the sports industry turned sharply negative in 2020, as many professional teams or their players were openly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Their perspective has since improved slightly but is still negative on balance.
  • Communications: Three industries in the communications arena -- the internet, television and radio, and advertising and public relations -- all saw their ratings from Republicans turn negative in 2021 or 2022, and they remain negative today. This aligns with prior research showing low Republican trust in the news media and big technology companies.

There are no comparable long-term declines among Democrats, although the recent dip in their rating of the retail sector is one to watch.

Restaurant, Farming and Computer Industries Are Most Popular

Meanwhile, two industries that are responsible for feeding Americans -- restaurants along with farming and agriculture -- top the industry rankings, as one or both have done each year since 2019.

The computer industry is also viewed positively by a majority of Americans. All told, nine industries on the list are viewed more positively than negatively to a meaningful degree, while an equal number are viewed more negatively on balance. The pharmaceutical industry is rated worst, followed by the federal government, and the oil and gas industry.


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