The American public is far more convinced than corporate executives that life is becoming more dangerous, and executives tend to think the public is unnecessarily panicky, according to a survey released today.
But while the survey found a wide gap between the public's perceptions of risk and the perceptions of business leaders, it also concluded that the public believes technological advances will bring benefits that outweigh new risks.
Louis Harris and Associates conducted the survey for March & McLennan Companies Inc., a group that includes the nation's largest business insurance brokerage firm.
More than three in four of the 1,488 individuals interviewed said there is more risk in today's world than there was 20 years ago, but corporate executive executives agreed with that statement by only 38 percent to 36 percent. The survey interviewed 402 top executives.
Harris said the public's clear message was that it wants to be given all available information and then left to make its own decisions involving risk. In general, the survey showed that the public doesn't hold a corporation responsible if its product is misunderstood and therefore misused. But if the consumer hasn't been given fair warning, the public supports penalties against the producer.
More than three in four persons surveyed think the country is taking reasonable precautions against known risks, but most of the executives think the public is seeking a protective security blanket against all and any dangers, Harris said in describing the survey findings.
The survey seemed to predict future tensions between a public that demands full information -- before deciding to smoke, to leave its seatbelts unfastened or to take a job in a dangerous environment -- and corporate leaders insensitive to that demand, but this conclusion wasn't made explicit.
Harris did point to several sharp disagreements, however, including the public's feelings that present knowledge about the risks in modern technology is only the tip of the iceberg and the corporate leaders' strong confidence that new advances and decreased government safety regulations would bring no unacceptable risks.
On nuclear power, all groups surveyed (lenders and bankers, members of Congress and federal regulators, as well as corporate officials and the public) supported continued expansion but by different margins.
The public rejected stopping nuclear power by 59 percent to 34 percent, while corporate executives reject the notion by 98 percent to 2 percent. However, the public favors a temporary halt to licensing of nuclear plants while new controls are worked out.
Both the government and business are rated negatively when the public is asked how institutions have performed in helping make society safe, but government is given the lower marks. The public rates government negatively by 69 percent to 29 percent ad business negatively by 63 to 34 percent.