Small Businesses Are Most Trusted Institution in U.S., but Why?

Americans have more trust in small businesses than any other institution in the United States, according to Gallup, but experts say that this romanticization could be ill-informed.

Small businesses have earned more trust from the American public than the military, the police, and the medical system. Almost 70% of respondents say that they have "a lot" of confidence in small businesses, and only 27% report having a lot of confidence in banks or large tech companies. Big business only earned 14% of the public's trust.

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Many think of small businesses as mom-and-pop shops, but that's just not the case, says Cindy Kam, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. The Small Business Administration defines a small business as those that make less than $41.5 million in revenue per year and employ fewer than 1,500 employees. Additionally, small businesses often participate in some of the same unethical behavior that large businesses do, such as embezzlement, fraud, or selling subpar products. However, people root for small businesses, Kam says, because they feed into an idea of the American dream.

News outlets and the press portray small businesses in a generally positive light, and across the political aisle, every candidate supports them. Kam told Marketplace that ultimately, they're viewed as "the heart and soul of the American economy." Individuals trust small businesses more because they seem to protect the public from monopolizing giants that homogenize markets and eliminate multifaceted local cultures.

"There's still this romanticized view of how commerce should operate that I think provides a foundation for people to trust small businesses," Kam told Marketplace. "There are the robber barons, the guys on top who are taking advantage of the little guy. The whole stereotype and vision of what big business is almost runs against the romanticized notions of the American dream."