An article in today's Wall Street Journal surprised me with a poll that showed American voters trust big business even less than they trust members of Congress. Banks (treated as a separate category by the Gallup pollsters who did this work) have zoomed downward in trust terms since 2006, and are now just a smidge above Congress. The Supreme Court was the last party mentioned--and its trustworthiness seems to be rising.
To put a number on things, about 18% of voters felt big businesses could be trusted--down from about 25% in 1990. I don't know where lawyers and used car salespeople would rank...but it couldn't be much worse. I suspect that a series of big-business-bashing movies have reinforced these feelings and concerns. And events such as the oil spill in the Gulf and the coal mine disaster in West Virginia don't help.
Interestingly, it seems to me that businesses are acting much more responsibly than they did 20 years ago. We certainly see a growing interest in the corporate social responsibility issues we track at CSRHUB. More than 8,000 companies report now on their CSR performance--and they can't all be lying! The Web (and tools like ours) are bringing transparency and visibility that helps hold companies responsible when they do wrong. I hope that soon the many companies who are doing good will also start to earn the trust they deserve, for the positive actions they are taking.