Growing shares of Americans think major technology companies should face more government regulation, and a majority say that these firms have too much economic power and influence, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted April 12-18, 2021. Still, there’s not a strong consensus among the public that the government reducing the size of major tech companies would be a good thing.
Some 56% of Americans think major technology companies should be regulated more than they are now, and 68% believe these firms have too much power and influence in the economy. The latest survey represents a statistically significant increase of those who say there should be more regulation, up from 47% in June 2020 and 51% in May 2018.
There have been increases in support for more regulation across most of the political spectrum, particularly among liberal Democrats, since this question was last asked in June 2020. (Partisan groupings include independents who lean toward either party.)
Pew Research Center has long studied Americans’ views of whether and how technology companies should be regulated and the potential impacts of these decisions on Americans’ digital lives.
To understand what Americans think about potential regulations for major technology companies, we surveyed 4,623 U.S. adults from April 12 to 18, 2021. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Here are the questions, responses and methodology used for this analysis.
Liberal Democrats’ support for more regulation jumped from 52% to 70% since last year. The only group that did not see a statistically significant increase in the share calling for greater regulation is moderate or liberal Republicans.
The findings come as lawmakers are considering antitrust legislation to weaken major tech companies’ dominance of their markets. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission and 46 states filed a lawsuit to break up Facebook at the end of 2020, saying the firm’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp was unlawful. This case was dismissed in late June with the option to refile it in July. In early July, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that encourages the Federal Communications Commission to take several actions to promote greater competition in the tech sphere and limit the power of major technology companies, among other things.
In terms of what greater regulation might look like, 55% say that even if major technology companies follow the rules, the government should not allow these companies to grow beyond a certain size because it hurts competition. Congress is debating reforms along these lines. But 42% of the public believes the government should allow major technology companies to grow as large as they want as long as these companies follow the rules, even if this means there is less competition.
Liberal Democrats are the most likely to support limiting the size of major technology companies, while smaller shares of conservative or moderate Democrats and Republicans of any ideology say the same. When looking at political parties as a whole, Democrats and Republicans do not differ in their views about limiting these companies’ ability to grow.
Americans divided on whether reducing size of major tech firms would be mostly a good or bad thing, or not make much difference
In June 2021, a bipartisan set of antitrust proposals was brought before the House that, if passed, would require some large technology companies to break up and abide by new standards that would limit their future expansion.
To better understand the public’s views on this type of government action, the survey asked Americans if it would be mostly a good thing, bad thing or not make much difference if the government were to take steps to reduce the size of major technology companies. Some 37% say that this would be mostly a good thing, while somewhat smaller shares say either it would mostly be a bad thing (29%) or not make much of a difference (31%).
Overall, Democrats and Republicans, including independents who lean toward either party, do not differ in their opinions about the impact of breaking up major tech companies.
Still, those on the edges of the ideological spectrum stand out as being more likely to view reducing the size of major technology companies favorably. For example, 48% of liberal Democrats and 44% of conservative Republicans say the government reducing the size of major technology companies would be a mostly a good thing, while those who are relatively more moderate within each party are less likely to think that.
About seven-in-ten U.S. adults say major tech companies have too much economic power and influence
Overall, 68% of adults say major tech companies have too much power and influence in today’s economy. Far fewer Americans believe the amount of economic power these companies wield is about the right amount (25%) or not enough (4%).
Majorities across political ideologies in both parties say these firms have too much economic influence. Still, conservative Republicans (80%) are the most likely to say this, followed by liberal Democrats (74%).
Americans who feel these companies have too much economic power and influence are particularly likely to be in favor of greater regulation: 70% in this group say the government should regulate major technology companies more than they do currently. And 65% of those who see major technology companies as wielding too much economic power say these companies should be limited from growing beyond a certain size. Some 48% of this same group say breaking up such companies by reducing their size would mostly be a good thing.
Those more familiar with regulation debates are more supportive of major tech companies facing increased regulation
About half of Americans have heard a great deal or fair amount about the debates on the role government should play in regulating major technology companies, while a similar share have heard not too much or nothing at all. But familiarity with these debates varies across the ideological spectrum.
Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are the most likely to say they have heard at least a fair amount about these debates, while those closer to the ideological center are less likely to say they have heard much about these regulation debates. Overall, the shares of Democrats (52%) and Republicans (53%) who have heard at least a fair amount about this topic do not differ.
At the same time, Americans who have heard at least a fair amount about the debates on the role government should play in regulating major technology companies are more likely than those with less familiarity to say major tech firms should be regulated more than they are now (69% vs. 42%) and are more likely to say these companies should not be allowed to grow beyond a certain size (62% vs. 48%). In addition, 52% of those more knowledgeable about these debates say if the government were to take steps to reduce the size of major technology companies it would mostly be a good thing, while 21% of those who have heard little to nothing about these debates feel similarly.
Note: Here are the questions, responses and methodology used for this analysis.