The FINANCIAL -- WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Of 25 industry sectors in the U.S., the computer and restaurant industries roughly tie for being the most well-regarded by the American public. Both have net image scores at or near the +50 mark, the result of being viewed positively by about 60% of Americans and negatively by 10%. Two other food-related industries -- farming and agriculture, and grocers -- combine with travel to round out the top-five sectors, with net positive scores ranging from +35 to +38.
The least well-regarded sector in the country is the federal government, with only 26% viewing it positively and 53% negatively, for an image score of -27. The next-lowest-ranked industries are all viewed favorably by about a third of Americans, but their negative ratings differ, resulting in net image scores ranging from -23 for the pharmaceutical industry and -14 for healthcare to +3 for the advertising and public relations industry.
The remaining 14 sectors are all viewed positively by at least 39% of Americans, well offsetting the percentage viewing them negatively, and resulting in positive image scores of between +6 and +28.
Gallup has tracked Americans' overall impressions of 24 business and industry sectors each August since 2001, while the federal government was added to the list in 2003. This year's results are from Gallup's annual Work and Education poll, conducted Aug. 1-12.
Computers and restaurants have consistently found themselves at or near the top of the list over the years, while the federal government's position at the bottom is fairly recent. From 2001 to 2010, the oil and gas industry ranked last or about tied for last with either the legal industry (in 2002 and 2003) or the real estate industry (in 2008). The oil and gas industry rating has become less negative as gas prices have been lower in recent years.
Average Ratings Down From 2017, but on Par With Long-Term Trend
This year's scores are lower for most industries than they were in 2017. Thus, the average positive score for the 25 business and industry sectors measured is now 43%, versus 49% last year. However, the 2017 figure was unusually high.
Today's average is similar to the figures from 2012 through 2016, as well as to the long-term average. Americans' impression of the sectors was lower from 2008 through 2011 -- recession and post-recession years -- when the positive scores averaged 34% to 39%.
Line graph. The average positive ratings for all business and industry sectors in the U.S. fell to 43% in 2018.
When factoring in the negative as well as positive scores for each industry, the overall average net positive score this year is +15, compared with +23 for 2017 and +12 since 2001.
Internet and Computer Ratings Down Sharply Since 2017
Positive perceptions of the internet and computer industries fell sharply in the past year, in part because both had spiked in 2017. However, this year's declines, which may relate to negative attention the digital industry has recently received over users' privacy and the flow of news content on the internet, more than offset that rise.
The internet's image -- 45% rate it positively -- is now the lowest since 2004, and the computer industry's 60% is the lowest since 2010.
Line graph. Americans’ positive views of the computer and internet industries fell sharply in 2018.
Partisan Lens Colors Many Industry Ratings
Aside from expected differences in Republicans' and Democrats' ratings of the federal government, the two party groups give divergent ratings to certain business sectors.
Republicans, including independents who lean Republican, are much more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to view the oil and gas industry, farming and agriculture, real estate, banking, and electric and gas utilities favorably.
Republicans give slightly higher positive ratings than Democrats do to another 10 industries, while Democrats are more positive than Republicans on just four -- all related in some way to media: the publishing industry, the movie industry, television and radio, and sports.
Notably, Republicans' current tendency to be more positive than Democrats about industries is consistent with the long-term pattern of Republicans feeling more positive when a Republican is president and Democrats being more positive under a Democratic president.
Republicans' average industry ratings were higher than Democrats' throughout George W. Bush's presidency, from 2001 to 2008.
Similarly, Democrats' average industry ratings were higher than Republicans' for most years from 2009 to 2016, spanning Barack Obama's presidency.
Line graph. Average ratings for all business and industry sectors are down among both Republicans and Democrats in 2018.
Americans' overall ratings of the major sectors that drive the economy are down somewhat from a year ago, but the rank order remains similar. Computers and anything related to food continue to be rated the most positively by Americans. The federal government and two medical-related fields -- the healthcare industry and pharmaceuticals -- are rated the most negatively.
Different industries' ratings vary from year to year depending on their prominence -- good or bad -- in the news, such as the real estate industry and banking industries from 2008 to 2012 and the auto industry in 2009. More broadly, Republicans' and Democrats' views of industries are shaded by who is president, with each feeling more positive on average when their own party is in power. That pattern rides beneath the surface, however, not generally altering the overall ratings. The long-term trend in Americans' perceptions of all 24 industries is fairly flat, save for a dip during the recession and an unusual spike in 2017.