Americans Sour on Big Tech, Remain Deeply Divided on Key Civic Institutions

Faith in tech companies among U.S. adults has fallen dramatically since the onset of the last presidential campaign in 2015, a new Pew Research Center survey has found. Americans remain deeply riven by partisan beliefs about the value of other institutions in civil society, such as banks, labor unions, the news media and large corporations.

Only 50 percent of adults think tech companies have a positive impact on society, compared with 71 percent just four years ago. The share of Americans who have a negative impression of tech companies has likewise risen, from 17 percent in 2015 to 33 percent today.

The fight over big tech reached a flashpoint during the 2016 presidential campaign, when then-candidate Donald Trump raised grievances about his treatment by social media platforms. The revelation of Russian election interference on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and others also promulgated distrust among the general public.

These factors, coupled with a growing unease within both parties about social media companies and their response to domestic misuse of their platforms, have tarnished the reputation of an industry that once earned wide support among the general public.

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Information about Facebook stock shares is displayed on a monitor as traders and financial professionals work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at the closing bell, November 19, 2018 in New York City. Drew Angerer / Staff/Getty

While Democrats and Republicans held somewhat uniform views about tech firms in 2015, the decline in support has become increasingly partisan, with both sides growing apart in their perspective by an additional eight points over four years. Despite the increasingly negative perception of tech firms overall, a slim majority of Democrats still thinks the industry has a positive effect on society.

The Pew survey also measured attitudes about other civic institutions and found an electorate deeply divided along partisan lines. While support for labor unions within both major parties has risen steadily since 2010, 58 percent of Democrats currently have a positive view of unions versus just 35 percent of Republicans.

Overall, Americans are more distrustful of the news media and large corporations at this point than they have been in recent history. Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults think the national news media has a negative impact on society, and 53 percent feel the same way about large corporations. While support for these institutions never reached an outright majority in the last nine years, the split within these categories reflects the same, stark partisanship as the other survey results.

Democratic views about the news media remain relatively consistent with those from 2010, when 39 had a positive impression, although a spike in support just after the 2016 election did disrupt the overall trend. Republican attitudes about the national news media have fallen to 10 percent, 14 points lower than in 2010.

Views towards large corporations are one of the few categories where trendlines within individual parties have diverged. Since the beginning of the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, Republicans have grown more trustful of large corporations, excepting a one-off decline ahead of the 2016 election.

Democratic support for large corporations increased slightly during this period before reaching a plateau and declining after the 2016 election. Big business is still underwater in both parties, though, at 45-percent support among Republicans and 17-percent support among Democrats.

Some of the largest spreads among U.S. voters occur within attitudes about higher education and religious organizations. While both categories have a net-positive rating among adults, the partisan divides are among the greatest. While just 33 percent of Republicans think colleges and universities have a positive impact on society, a Democratic supermajority — at 67 percent — has the same view. Positive views towards churches and religious organizations are similarly spread, at 68 percent and 38 percent, respectively, among Republicans and Democrats.

Americans Sour on Big Tech, Remain Deeply Divided on Key Civic Institutions | U.S.