The New Anti-Corporate Populism Isn’t So New

Last night (12/15/11), MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes were impressed by a new Pew poll–flagged by Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent–showing that a vast majority of the public believes that corporations and the wealthy have too much power.

The picture one gets from the poll is pretty dramatic:

The question that seemed most important to Maddow and Hayes was why Republican politicians aren’t shifting their policies in response to this apparent surge in anti-corporate populism:

MADDOW: The national sentiment right now being expressed to pollsters is that the people at the top are getting way too much of the spoils of both our economy and our political system and I resent it, and I think that even if I’m a Republican.

HAYES: Majority of Republicans say that wealthy people–corporations and people with money–have too much power in this country, a majority of Republicans in the poll.

MADDOW: Are you seeing politicians behave in a way that reflects a desire to meet that concern?

HAYES: What’s amazing to me is how unresponsive Republican state level officials are and how much they’re responsive to all of their ideological priors, all of the interests that they promised fealty to before they got into office, and how little trimming of the sails they’ve done.

I mean, Rick Scott just seems to be perfectly happy to plow along at 25 percent, doing all these things that are wildly unpopular. And I think there’s a different set of incentive structures on the right, partly because of the way the money works over there, partly because of the ideological cohesiveness of the base.

But what we have not seen largely are course corrections.


Of course, MSNBC is likely to focus more on what Republicans are doing wrong, or not doing at all; that’s their bread and butter. But setting up a political discussion along these lines presents some problems.

If you’re wondering why Republican politicians haven’t become more anti-corporate, what about the Democratic Party? Democrats in the poll are far more critical of corporate power than Republicans. Does their party seem politically responsive to this?

(Of course, the first question to ask is whether you really believe politicians are actually sensitive to public opinion at all–read about Thomas Ferguson’s investment theory of politics for another take.)

The most important thing to know is that this new populism isn’t new. ABC‘s been polling on this for a while (results are posted on

And FAIR took note of this in 1998 (press release, 6/1/98) when we compared public opinion to a survey of elite media:

The general public is more critical of the concentration of corporate power in the United States than are journalists. When asked whether they felt “too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies,” 57 percent of the journalists agreed, while 43 percent felt they did not have too much power. The numbers were quite different, though, when the Times Mirror Center asked the same question of the general public in October 1995. A full 77 percent of the public felt that corporations had too much power, with only 18 percent feeling that they did not.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.