May 5, 2010

United We Stand … on Technology

by Jodie T. Allen, Senior Editor, Pew Research Center

You may take some whacks at Goldman Sachs but don’t lay a hand on my PCs or Macs! That at least is the message one might take from a perusal of Americans’ judgments about who and what are having positive or negative effects on the way things are going in the country today.

A March Pew Research Center survey found public satisfaction with the state of the nation continuing to decline while anger and frustration with the federal government mounts. Nor are the feds the sole target of public distrust. Numerous other institutions share in its opprobrium. On the scale of positive judgments by American adults, banks and other financial institutions, large corporations, labor unions — even the news media and entertainment industry — all score in the 20s or low 30s.

That institutions of higher education, churches and other religious organizations and that perennial favorite “small business” earn higher ratings is perhaps unsurprising. More striking is that at the top of the popularity list — essentially tied with small business for first place in making a positive difference while outranking even religious institutions — are technology companies.

Nor is that positive rating primarily the result of the enthusiasm of young and relatively young adults, the first adopters and overwhelming users of new technology. While fully 80% of those under age 30 express positive views of the tech sector, the fans of technology firms are well distributed across the age spectrum including about two-thirds (66%) of those in the 50-64 age bracket and more than half (52%) of those ages 65 and older. Even among the elderly, non-positive evaluations of tech companies are about as likely to be a non-response (19%) as a negative rating (23%).

Among demographic groups men are more likely than women to have warm feelings about the technology industry (73% vs. 63%) . Male enthusiasm extends across the age range with fully 68% of men ages 50 and above saying that tech companies have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country. Education also plays some role in this evaluation: 75% of college grads and 70% of those with some college experience take a positive view compared with about six in ten of those with lesser education attainment. Greater affluence also appears to stimulate more favorable views — 82% of those with annual incomes of $100,000 or more give a thumbs-up to tech companies compared with numbers in the 60% range for lesser income categories. Among regions, only in the South do somewhat fewer (63%) see tech firms exerting a positive influence.

Unlike in the case of government and many other institutions, views of technology companies are virtually invariant across political party lines, ideological leanings or voter status. But, as in the case of some other institutions tested, some carryover of contentment is apparent. Among those who say they are “angry” with the federal government only 59% say that technology companies have a positive influence compared with 70% of those “frustrated” and 73% of the “content” with government group. And while nearly eight in ten (78%) of those who are satisfied with the current direction of the nation also cast a favorable eye on the tech sector, only 64% of the nationally dissatisfied share that view. Of course one cannot conclude from this that loving your laptop makes you love the state of the nation.