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Blog Post | June 14, 2024

Wide-Ranging Polling Data Demonstrates Voters’ Populist Mood

Corporate Crackdown

As Election Season Heats Up, Biden Should Seize the Opportunity to Pursue A Corporate Crackdown

As corporate profits soar, living conditions continue to deteriorate, and the wealth gap grows, we are in a populist moment. The majority of Americans understand that corporations are ripping them off, and want their representatives in government to do something about it. In other words, as we have long argued, Biden should pursue a corporate crackdown: an explicit executive branch effort to punish corporate wrongdoing in conjunction with publicly picking fights with corporate villains who are exploiting the masses and destroying the planet. 

This populist moment is the result of Americans correctly placing blame on corporations for some of the major disasters of the last couple of decades. Over half (53 percent) of Americans claim that the Silicon Valley Bank executives who made millions are to blame for the institution’s collapse. A different 76 percent of respondents say that they should be prosecuted, with 13 percent having no opinion. Additionally, 54 percent of them said there should be more regulation of American banks, and 19 percent of those respondents do not have an opinion—meaning fewer than a third of Americans oppose a banking crackdown. While a narrow minority (49 percent) of Americans say that Norfolk Southern is to blame for the train derailment in East Palestine (with 19 percent saying they are unsure), 58 percent of likely voters think there are too few safety precautions in place for railroad companies that transport hazardous materials – a nod towards the way that large companies cut costs to increase their profit margins at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of the public. Furthermore, a majority of voters support litigation holding corporations accountable for their knowing contributions to catastrophic climate change, as polling by our collaborators at Public Citizen and Data for Progress recently demonstrated. 

Americans are increasingly finding themselves in a deteriorating economic situation, and it is being reflected in how they view the key institutions in our society, as well as where they place the blame for economic issues. 60 percent of Americans view banks and financial institutions negatively, and 68 percent of them view large corporations negatively as well. On the other hand, corporations are seen as a primary cause of inflation, especially among Americans working in the service industry. 90 percent of them believe corporations being greedy and raising prices to make record profits is a cause of inflation, including 66 percent of them who believe it is a major cause. This deservedly harsh sentiment is shared by 85 percent of Americans broadly, 59 percent of whom would agree that is a major cause.

Finally, wage theft is a particularly severe violation of law that corporations are getting away with en masse, and it is causing widespread suffering among working people—though the mainstream media can’t seem to find the confidence to highlight these stories. In 2023, more than $274 million in stolen wages were recovered by the Department of Labor. Between 2017 and 2020, $3.24 billion was recovered. This number, however, is much smaller than the actual amount of wages stolen from workers, since most people do not report or seek legal action for stolen wages. The Economic Policy Institute has estimated that $50 billion in wages are stolen each year. In an additional study EPI estimated that, in the 10 most populous states, minimum wage violations cost 2.4 million workers $8 billion dollars annually, affecting 17 percent of all low-wage workers.

Enforcement Actions That Have Strong Public Support

Biden should take voters’ anger at corporations to heart, and re-up his efforts to enact progressive policies that hold corporations and executives accountable for extracting resources and destroying the planet. The kind of corporate crackdown we’ve long advocated—the use of executive branch powers to hold corporations accountable and shame them publicly for their abuses—has widespread and bipartisan support. As of 2023, 69 percent of Americans, regardless of party designation, support stronger antitrust laws. Of particular relevance to this election cycle, 63 percent of 2020 Trump voters support raising taxes on the wealthy. In a separate poll, 81 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans said that the CEOs of the largest American companies are being paid “too much.” Only 26 percent of Republicans would say that large corporations have a positive effect, down from 54 percent in 2019. With popular opinion supporting challenging corporate power and cracking down on abuses, there are a number of specific policies Biden should make sure to enthusiastically pursue. While his administration has done some substantial work in these areas, he should still double down on raising taxes on billionaires, strengthening labor rights, continuing to push for strong antitrust enforcement, and cracking down on white collar crime. 

Raising taxes on billionaires is a strategy that produces an intense positive response across people whose vote the Democratic party could capture, with 71 percent of voters’ support. Even 63 percent of 2020 Trump voters support raising taxes on the wealthy. The poor demand taxing the wealthy the most. 79 percent of those who earn less than $50,000 a year support raising taxes on the wealthy and big corporations. This sentiment is supported by the broader public as well, with 79 percent of the general population agreeing to such an increase in taxes. 

 Additionally, strengthening labor rights and protections should accompany this raise in taxes. Labor unions are similarly strongly supported right now, with 53 percent of those polled favoring labor unions, as compared to only 33 percent opposing them, while 47 percent favored the UAW striking the big 3 automakers, with only 17 percent seeing the strike as unfavorable. 

Populist sentiment also extends to support for stronger antitrust actions, underpinned by a view of large corporations as being unethical villains. Only 6 percent of Americans actually believe that big companies behave more ethically than smaller businesses, while 50 percent of them view small businesses as more ethical. Further, 69 percent of all U.S adult citizens support antitrust laws. Only 6 percent would say that antitrust laws are too strict, while 36 percent would say they are not strict enough. People believe that antitrust would help the average, working and middle class American.

Finally, to address wage theft and other ways the corporations shamelessly rip off both employees and consumers, Biden should support more enthusiastic DOJ efforts to crack down on white collar crime. As Public Citizen has documented, white collar crime enforcement has recently had a merely tiny uptick, after decades of record-low numbers of corporate crime prosecutions. Cracking down on especially unpopular companies that the DOJ has previously allowed to settle cases with milquetoast leniency agreements with in the past – like, the scandal-plagued Boeing, for instance – would be a strong step for the Biden administration. Especially given that his political opponent this election season is a white collar criminal himself, this kind of crack down is low-hanging fruit.

As election season heats up, Biden is in an advantageous position, where the right thing to do – regulating large corporations in order to benefit working class people – is also the popular thing to do. If he wants to strengthen his re-election campaign, he should pursue a corporate crackdown.

Corporate Crackdown

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