Americans have higher expectations for U.S. businesses to address global challenges than for the U.S. government, according to a study released today by APCO Insight, the opinion research arm of APCO Worldwide, at a joint event with Harvard University’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative.

According to the survey, a greater percentage of Americans believe it should be a top priority for businesses to address everything from building democracy to protecting the environment than the percentage of Americans who believe it should be a top priority for government.

“The study shows despite the high expectations Americans have for businesses there is there is less confidence in business, compared to other institutions, to meet those expectations,” says Bryan Dumont, senior vice president, APCO Insight. “Fewer than 10 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence that American businesses are helping to solve the challenges facing people in other countries.”

Forty percent of Americans believe that businesses should be spending more money than they are now to help solve global challenges facing people in other countries, while only 23 percent want business to be spending less. 

“Additionally, Americans believe that the policies and practices of U.S. businesses are more likely to help America’s image abroad than the policies and practices of the U.S. government,” said Dumont. Sixty-five percent of those polled feel that contributions American businesses make to other societies can help improve America’s image abroad.

“What these results mean is that businesses cannot stand on the sidelines when it comes to these global issues,” says Ambassador Elizabeth Jones, executive vice president, APCO Worldwide, and former assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia, U.S. Department of State. “But more importantly, the results suggest that regardless of the positive work companies are doing to face global challenges, there is obviously a lack of effective communication to the American public about the efforts these companies are making. How a company plans for and engages in political, environmental and social issues that impact its business can provide the critical difference between success and failure.”

Academic, business, government and student leaders came together today to discuss the findings and debate their implications for U.S.-based multinational corporations and for academic research and education.