Special Report

How Americans Felt About Big Business Every Year This Century

Source: Cineberg / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

2015
> Highly confident in big business: 21% of Americans
> Somewhat confident in big business: 41% of Americans
> Little to no confidence in big business: 37% of Americans
> Dow Jones Industrial Avg. performance: -2.2%

German auto behemoth Volkswagen Group admitted publicly in September that it used devices in its “clean diesel” cars to cheat emissions tests when in fact the vehicles were emitting up to 40 times the legal limit for toxic nitrogen oxide pollutants. Electronics retailer RadioShack, founded in 1921, filed for bankruptcy protection in February. BP agreed to pay nearly $19 billion in reparations for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

2016
> Highly confident in big business: 18% of Americans
> Somewhat confident in big business: 43% of Americans
> Little to no confidence in big business: 38% of Americans
> Dow Jones Industrial Avg. performance: +13.4%

Drugmakers Pfizer and Allergan cancelled a $160 billion merger over the Obama administration’s new rules regarding tax inversions, a legal but controversial method of corporate tax avoidance. That spring, SpaceX successfully landed a reusable first-stage rocket, marking a first for a new cost-savings method of launching space vehicles. In late 2016, Wells Fargo bank admitted that its employees were boosting their sales numbers by creating millions of fraudulent savings and checking accounts.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

2017
> Highly confident in big business: 21% of Americans
> Somewhat confident in big business: 38% of Americans
> Little to no confidence in big business: 39% of Americans
> Dow Jones Industrial Avg. performance: +25.1%

In January, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office ordered ExxonMobil to provide documents related to an investigation into whether the oil company misled the public on what it knew about the link between fossil fuels and global warming. The federal funds rate that underpins the cost of borrowing topped 1% in 2017 for the first time since the Great Recession, a signal that the U.S. economy was beginning to recover from the subprime mortgage fiasco.

2018
> Highly confident in big business: 25% of Americans
> Somewhat confident in big business: 43% of Americans
> Little to no confidence in big business: 30% of Americans
> Dow Jones Industrial Avg. performance: -5.6%

Facebook announced in March it was barring Cambridge Analytica — a data firm owned by right-wing billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer — from its platform, only after a whistleblower went public showing the firm used shady tactics to farm data from millions of Facebook users to influence elections. In August, Apple became the first publicly traded company to reach a market capitalization of $1 trillion.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

2019
> Highly confident in big business: 23% of Americans
> Somewhat confident in big business: 41% of Americans
> Little to no confidence in big business: 34% of Americans
> Dow Jones Industrial Avg. performance: +22.3%

In March, Boeing grounded its global fleet of 737 Max jets after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rescinded its order to halt commercial operations of the jet in late 2020 after a flaw in an automated feature of the aircraft was fixed. In late 2019, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired for having a consensual relationship with an employee.