America’s Most Hated Industries

Americans are not happy with the government. But for the first time in a long while, it is not the most hated industry in the country. That honor now belongs to the oil and gas industry as a result of climbing prices at the pumps and the BP oil spill still fresh in many people’s minds.

A new poll conducted by Gallup asked thousands of Americans how they felt about 25 of the nation’s largest industries — positive, neutral or negative. Some 73% of responses for computers, the highest-rated industry, were positive. On the other end of the spectrum, only 22% felt positive about banking, while more than 60% felt negative. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 industries in the private sector that Americans hate.

Of the industries surveyed by Gallup, the majority that did well involve discretionary spending. The four with the most positive response — the Internet, restaurants, retail and computers — are all things Americans use primarily for leisure. Conversely, the industries that received the most negative response are those considered necessities — banking, oil and gas, and the pharmaceutical industry.

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Many of those industries, such as oil and gas, the pharmaceutical industry and the legal field, have always had a negative image. In many cases, perception has improved in recent years for some of these. In the health care industry, positive perception increased from 27% in 2011 to 42% in 2012, the biggest improvement in positive opinion in the country.

Other industries on this list, such as banking and real estate, have not always had such a strong negative image, but have developed a more negative profile in recent years. In the case of these two specific industries, this may be largely the result of the subprime mortgage crisis. Banking has seen the biggest increase in negative image since the survey was first conducted, with 23% responding negatively in 2001 compared to the 53% responding negatively in 2012.

Dr. Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, confirmed that negative feelings about the subprime mortgage crisis were likely the strongest cause of the recent growth in negative perception for the real estate . Despite negative perception, Newport suggests it’s not directed at real estate agents. “With the mortgage crisis of recent years, we’re not thinking about our local Remax estate agent who’s a nice person. We’re think about the big repackagers of mortgages and subprime mortgages, and how those have all gone wrong.”

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 private sector industries with the most overall negative views among the 25 industries Gallup included in its annual Work and Education survey. We also reviewed the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI), which employs a multiequation econometric model to score industries on a 0-100 scale.

These are America’s most hated industries.

1. Oil and Gas Industry

> Pct. negative rating: 61%

Nearly two-thirds of Americans have a negative overall view of the oil and gas industry, falling below the U.S. government in the eyes of the public. In 2011, ACSI gave gas stations a score of 74, which placed it 11th from the bottom out of 48 industries. At the time of the 2012 Gallup survey, gasoline prices were on the rise. Plus, as Newport pointed out, people have to deal with the oil and gas industry every day when they put gas in their car “and they see prices inexplicably zoom up, and they’re not sure why.” Increasingly high revenues and government tax breaks may be one explanation for the oil and gas industry’s poor public image. The Gallup report also suggests that some Americans believe the industry has a poor environmental record, which is not always confined to events off-shore, or abroad. A fire broke out at one of Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond, California last week, resulting in thousands of emergency room visits and potentially harmful exposure to toxic fumes. Accidents like than can only harm the industry’s image.

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2. Banking Industry

> Pct. negative rating: 53%

The overall negative ratings for this industry has increased significantly from 20% in 2001 to 53% this year. The percentage of positive ratings has also declined by nearly 50% since 2001. The poor image of the banking industry is fairly straightforward, having “been involved in major issues since Lehman brothers in 2008, and it still looks like a problem,” Newport says. In addition, Americans’ perception may be affected by the high fees banks charge consumers.The high volume of scandals both in the U.S. and in Europe exposes flaws in the industry and undermine the public’s confidence in its effectiveness.Bank of America has built an infamous public image with false foreclosures, property seizures, misleading mortgage adjustment programs, and other controversial conduct. Scandals like these could be fueling the perception that the banking industry is only profit-oriented and functioning at the expense of the average American.

3. Health Care Industry

> Pct. negative rating: 42%

Of all the industries discussed by Gallup, health care saw the most positive change in the last year. Its positive image is also the best it has been since 2001. The Gallup report suggests that these changes may reflect the effects of the Supreme Court’s June decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. Despite the 16% increase in positive ratings since 2001, the health care industry still polled as one of the most negatively perceived industries. Newport noted that “although a lot of Americans in our surveys tell us they are actually satisfied with their personal health care . . . [the] image of the health care industry in general is more negative, because Americans hear so many problems about it.”

4. Real Estate Industry

> Pct. negative rating: 41%

Over a 10-year period, the real estate industry’s negative rating increased by 105% — an increase second only to banking. Additionally, the overall positive views have dropped by almost 20% since 2011 alone. Americans’ low overall opinion of this industry is probably related to the mortgage crisis and the effects it’s had on the economy in recent years. Newport has suggested that Americans are probably not reacting to individual, local realtors. Instead, respondents associate the industry with sub-prime mortgages, loans on loans, and robo-signing. That said, like lawyers, realtors are associated with often stressful situations, which might influence the public’s bad impressions of the industry. In spite of its poor score, the percentage of Americans who perceive the real estate Industry negatively has declined since the Gallup survey last year, falling from 52% to 41%.

5. Pharmaceutical Industry

> Pct. negative rating: 38%

ACSI gave health and personal care stores a score of 76, which ranks 16th from the bottom, and could help explain the negative opinions surrounding the pharmaceutical industry. The percentage of negative rating recorded by the Gallup poll improved some in 2012, from 43% to 38%. A recent Harris-Interactive study reported that 46% of people believed the pharmaceutical industry ought to be more regulated, and it was among the industries least likely to be considered honest and trustworthy. It would seem the industry’s public image and trustworthiness suffers from frequent lawsuits by consumers and regulators alike, with consumers alleging the medications caused them harm and agencies charging the companies for illegal marketing or other regulatory violations. The high cost of brand-name drugs consumers must pay until generic versions become available also hurts the public’s perception of the industry.

6. Electric and Gas Utilities

> Pct. negative rating: 38%

The electric and gas utilities industry can’t seem to catch a break. Positive overall opinion dropped from 38% to 34% in the last year. Regarding municipal utilities in particular, ACSI ranks the industry poorly as well, with a score of 73, ranking seventh from the bottom. Utilities companies have a public history of energy shortages, brownouts, manipulating regulations to solidify monopolies, and a poor environmental record. More recently, rising energy costs could be generating dissatisfaction among the public. In ASCI’s most recent company ranking, Long Island Power and Northeast Utilities received the two lowest scores in the survey.

7. The Legal Field

> Pct. negative rating: 37%

It will surprise almost no one that the legal field made the list. For one reason or another, lawyers are perceived negatively by Americans. According to Newport, “lawyers are one of those things that people criticize until they need one.” The legal system is adversarial by definition, and lawyers work in the midst of emotional and expensive problems. It does not help matters that attorneys are regularly included among the highest-paid professions. With corporate lawyers billing at $1,000 per hour, expectations for the right outcome can be high. Nevertheless, the number of Americans who view the legal field negatively dropped slightly since last year. And since 2001, the percentage of negative rating has declined by about 18%, while Americans’ positive perception has increased by 17% over the same period.

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8. Television and Radio Industry

> Pct. negative rating: 36%

Public impression of the television and radio industry improved slightly this year, as the percentage of Americans regarding it negatively dropped from 40% to 36%. The Gallup poll found 37% of Americans approving of the industry, while 25% described their position as neutral. Since 2001, positive overall opinions of this industry declined by about 12%. Subscription television services, like cable and satellite, received a score of 66 from the ACSI, the third worst score after airlines and newspapers in 2011. Scores and ratings this bad could be a symptom of a general distrust in the media. A Gallup survey conducted in 2012 found that Americans’ confidence in television news is at a new low, with 21% of adults indicating little confidence in it. This is a small decline from last year and a significant decline from 1993, when Gallup first measured the issue and 46% of adults indicated confidence.

9. Movie Industry

> Pct. negative rating: 35%

In addition to Gallup’s score, the movie industry scores seventh worst out of 48 industries evaluated by the American Consumer Index. The reasons for the negative perception of the movie industry are less clear than for banking or the oil industry. The editor in chief of Gallup, Frank Newport, suggests that some people may disapprove of the content of R-rated movies, or may frown upon the frequently televised problems the actors themselves get into. The main reason may be the high cost of movie tickets, especially when there are alternatives to renting movies and going to the theater on the internet and television.

10. Advertising and Public Relations

> Pct. negative rating: 35%

Advertising and Public Relations ranks tenth in terms of negative overall perception out of 26 industries. The industry’s positive public perception had improved measurably since 2001, according to Gallup, increasing by about 23%. In spite of this improvement, it remains in the bottom 10. A recent study conducted by Harris Interactive found that 98% of people distrust the Internet, largely because of advertisements. According to the Harris poll, respondents reported feeling bombarded by too many advertisements, and that the Internet’s content tended to be self-promotional.

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