CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians may be voting Republican more and more, but that doesn’t mean they’re more likely to trust big business.
That’s among the conclusions of the latest MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia Poll.
On Labor Day, the West Virginia Poll took a look at how West Virginians view big business.
“There is some skepticism of big business, not necessarily small business,” said professional pollster Rex Repass, who designed the West Virginia Poll.
Fifty-eight percent of poll respondents said government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest.
On the flip side, 42 percent said government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.
The greater acceptance of regulation has grown since 2014, when the West Virginia Poll asked the same question in cooperation with Pew Research.
“We found, at that time, that WV voters are growing in their conservative point of view,” Repass said.
West Virginia has continued its march toward Republican dominance at the voting booth, with the GOP controlling all but one of the state’s congressional seats, the governor’s office, all but one of the other elected offices in the executive branch and the majorities in the Legislature.
Many of the Republican elected leaders consistently describe a desire to reduce regulatory burdens on business. There’s also a focus on the overall business climate in West Virginia.
Regulatory reform was one of the themes emphasized last week by Republican legislative leaders at the annual Business Summit at The Greenbrier, although much of that discussion was framed in terms of helping entrepreneurs.
When new House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, took office last week, he described a desire to see economic growth but he acknowledged a need for some regulatory safeguards.
“They need a friendly business environment and by that I don’t necessarily mean complete absence of regulation,” he told Beckley’s Register-Herald newspaper.
“A lot of folks say that and when they say friendly business environment to some that’s code for we just need to abolish all regulations.”
Hanshaw also talked about economic growth as a way for entrepreneurs to take chances and succeed.
“We can’t wait on outside forces to come save us. We have to be willing to do some of that work on our own,” he said on MetroNews’ “Talkline. “We have to make sure we have an environment here where people can be entrepreneurial.”
Hanshaw added, “While we certainly welcome investments in West Virginia, we need to do more to make sure West Virginians can start businesses, grow businesses.”
The West Virginia Poll showed that most respondents believe too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large corporations.
Eighty-eight percent of those who responded hold that view, according to the poll. Only 12 percent believe otherwise.
That’s up from the 82 percent in 2014 who expressed belief that too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies. Just 18 percent that year said the largest companies do not have too much power.
“My insight is, while the state is still very strongly conservative, there is a thread of populism in the state and it may be cultural, historic, not sure,” Repass said.
“But skepticism of big business and high levels of profit may be a part of that populism that is present in the state.”
The West Virginia Poll also shows growing belief that corporations make too much profit.
Seventy-two percent of respondents this year said most corporations make too much profit. Twenty-eight percent said most corporations make a fair and reasonable profit.
That compares to 61 percent in 2014 who believed corporations make too much profit. Thirty-nine percent that year said corporations make reasonable profits.
Repass said that shows attitudes are changing.
He noted the Primary Election victory of Bernie Sanders in 2016 in West Virginia. Sanders beat the eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton, 124,700 votes to 86,914 votes.
Sanders was an advocate for issues like a higher minimum wage and universal healthcare. At a Democratic presidential debate he said, “People are anxious about the fact that they’re seeing the new income and wealth going to the top 1 percent.”
Repass noted, “Bernie Sanders did very well here.”
He suggested an attitude shift about corporations may continue.
“The younger people tend to be more negative toward big corporations and also more liberal,” Repass said.
The West Virginia Poll surveyed 404 people likely registered voters from all 55 counties.
The survey was conducted between Aug.16-26. There’s a margin of error of 4.9 percent.