Burson study: Chinese view corporations more favorably than Americans

China's general public has a more favorable view of corporations than that of the US, according to a study released Monday by Burson-Marsteller.

Burson-Marsteller CEO Don Baer
Burson-Marsteller CEO Don Baer

NEW YORK: Residents of developed regions such as North America and Western Europe have very different opinions on the role corporations play in society than do citizens of countries such as Russia, Brazil, and China, according to the Corporate Perception Indicator report released Monday morning by Burson-Marsteller.

Western consumers are more cynical about the role of corporations than their counterparts in developing countries. While more than half (52%) of the general public in developed countries has a positive view of corporations, that number is 20% higher (72%) in emerging economies. More specifically, the general public in China is much more optimistic about the role of corporations than their American counterparts, according to the report.

The study also found marked differences on how members of the public and executives view corporations, a contrast Burson global CEO Don Baer called the conflict of "street vs. suite." He also noted divides among generations in the US.

"I think you can look at the results, and with the exception of one group — Millennials — Chinese consumers tend to embrace global influences more more," he said. "Millennials in the US are less concerned about the outsourcing of jobs than other demographics. Economic nationalism doesn’t matter to them as much."

In terms of the divide between citizens of developed countries and those in emerging markets on the impact of corporations, Baer explained that emerging markets were not as adversely affected by the financial crisis of 2008. Members of the public in developing countries also see progress taking place on a grander scale.

"[Citizens of emerging countries] did not suffer through the same impact of the 2008 crisis as they did here," he noted. "The rate of progress is also faster than in a developed economy. Things are moving ahead at a much faster speed in a positive direction in China and other markets. Whereas moving forward in the US is more incremental."

There are points where both Main Street and the C-suite agree. Both members of the general public (57%) and business executives (53%) said corporations take advantage of loopholes to avoid paying taxes.

Respondents in most parts of the world say it is important for companies to pay a "fair share" of taxes, including 70% of the general population in the US; 67% of business leaders here also say it is "very important" for them to do so. An exception is Russia, where only 12% of respondents said it is very important for companies to pay a fair share of taxes, and a majority said it is not important.

The study also found that the location of a company matters. Sixty-three percent of Chinese consumers have a more favorable view of companies based the US. However, the reverse is true in America, where 71% of the general public has a less favorable view of Chinese corporations. Sixty-one percent of Russians and 59% of Germans have a less favorable view of companies based in the US.  

Burson’s research firm, Penn Schoen Berland, surveyed more than 25,000 consumers and more than 1,800 business executives in 25 markets for the report, which is being released six years after the peak of the global financial crisis.

Burson has partnered with business news network CNBC on the report. Squawk Box anchor Becky Quick will lead the network’s on-air coverage of the study on Monday morning. The report will also be discussed as part of the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York this week.

The survey also identified a stark contrast between consumers in the US and the rest of the world on the question of who is responsible for healthcare. In other developed countries, nearly two-thirds of the general public said government is responsible for providing healthcare coverage, compared with 37% in the US. Of American consumers, 29% said individuals should be responsible for healthcare while 21% said corporations have the responsibility.  

There’s also a lack of respect for chief executives, according to the survey. While nearly half (47%) of members of the public in the US identify CEOs as some of the most powerful people in society, only 9% view them as the most respected.

"I think [CEOs] need to explain better what’s being done," said Baer. "The survey shows corporations get credit for driving economic health and opportunity, and it suggests the public wants to hear more about how leaders are working with that in mind."

Many executives in developed markets say corporations have become less socially responsible. More than half of German executives (52%) said that’s the case, as did 46% of their counterparts in France and 45% in the Netherlands.

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