Young Americans Skeptical of Both Big Government and Ethically Challenged Businesses, Marist Poll Finds

By Christopher Neefus | January 28, 2010 | 1:31pm EST

An AIG office building is shown Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in New York. Americans have stomached bailout after bailout as necessary medicine, but the revelation that millions of the taxpayer dollars to keep AIG afloat are being paid out as bonuses has hit a mammoth nerve. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

( – A new poll conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion and the Knights of Columbus shows that the next generation of the American work force --  called the “Millenials” -- is wary both of government intervention and the behavior of big business leaders.
A majority of Millenials, or those aged 18-29, said they preferred a free-market approach in the economy over increased government regulation of business, and they overwhelmingly said they thought there was a different moral compass in the workplace than at home, which 66 percent said was a problem.
“When it comes to addressing the economic crisis,” Marist asked, “which of the following statements comes closer to your view:
“Government should regulate business and the economy more,” or “More government regulation will hurt business and the economy.”
53 percent chose the latter.
Millenials also said they believed business leaders were walking away from their personal moral compasses in favor of greed.
Fully 88 percent said “Yes” when asked: “Do you think people have a different set of ethical standards in business than in their personal lives?”
Another strong majority, 66 percent, expressed that having two different ethical codes was wrong—they said “No” when asked: “Do you think people should have a different set of ethical standards in business than in their personal lives?”
Additionally, Marist found that a full 60 percent of young adults thought the religious beliefs and values of a businessperson should influence their decisions in the workplace. Only 22 percent said those values should not interfere at all.
The poll numbers support the sometimes conflicting criticism President Obama has received -- that on one hand, he is trying to expand the federal government too much, and on the other hand is too friendly to big businesses that have failed the middle class.
Carl Anderson, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus, said the results could somewhat reflect on the Obama’s administration’s handling of the economy.
“A year into the Obama administration,” he said, “we find that Americans -- and younger Americans -- are having a crisis of confidence. People are increasingly pessimistic about the government’s ability to handle the economic crisis and a majority believes that increased government regulation will hurt the economy.”
“At the same time,” Anderson said, “most Americans are unhappy with the ethical environment in business. They want less greed, and the same core values that govern an executive’s personal life to also govern business decisions. In other words, Americans neither want sleight of hand on Wall Street or a heavy hand from Washington, and these attitudes are shared by America’s young adults.”
Andrew Walther, vice president of media research and development for the K of C, suggested that perhaps the way forward is not something any administration can forge without a return to personal accountability.
“The way forward here is a way forward that is different from a purely government solution that’s mandated somehow,” Walther said.
“I think what people are for and what people need to do is lead in terms of their own life,” he said. “We did a previous poll a year ago that something like 90-plus percent of Americans and 70-plus percent of executives said that a business can be both ethical and successful. So I think what needs to happen is that people need to step up to the plate individually and realize with numbers like that, there are more people that believe that you can be ethical and successful than people that don’t, and it’s time to put that into practice.
“When you take a look, I think what they’re looking for is values -- they’re looking for the values of not hurting your neighbor, of good stewardship, of really being your keeper in a way and taking a look at the consequences of the decisions that are made outside of just the immediate monetary return.
"I think with 7 of 10 Americans and 9 out of 10 executives saying, ‘Yeah, you can run a business that way and be successful,’ what it takes is for that huge majority of people to stand up and say, ‘Yes, we will do that.’”
The Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College surveyed 1,006 Millenials for the poll, which carries a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points. More of the data can be found here. 

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