It used to be easy to hate pharmaceutical companies. Between soaring drug costs and the opioid crisis, the industry was widely perceived as one that put profits over people’s health. In a 2019 Gallup survey
, pharma was ranked dead last for positive perception among United States institutions. People had more positive feelings about the federal government than Big Pharma.
That year, technology companies were more popular. In a different survey, just under half
of US adults had a positive view of the tech sector. It’s hard to compare two different polls head to head, but the general trend is clear: in 2019, people felt better about tech companies than they did about pharma.
But then, the pandemic hit, and the country’s recovery depended on the success of vaccines. Government scrutiny of tech companies — from both sides of the aisle — picked up steam. And the two industries seem to have swapped places in the nationwide popularity contest.
The COVID-19 vaccines developed by companies like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna are astonishingly effective. Their rollout has helped reduce levels of virus in parts of the US to some of the lowest they’ve been since March 2020. That success led to a boost in popularity for the drug companies. There were more people who had a favorable view than people who had an unfavorable view of the companies in a March 2021 Data for Progress survey
, just as the vaccination campaign in the US was picking up steam.
Meanwhile, during the pandemic, tech companies’ popularity took a nosedive
. Democrats and Republicans both spent the past year highlighting various tech failures, and congressional hearings brought new attention to their anti-competitive business practices
. The group of US adults who have a positive view of the tech industry shrunk to around a third, according to a February 2021 Gallup poll
. And the number of people with a very negative opinion of the sector jumped to 22 percent, up from 10 percent in August 2019.
The past year recalibrated our relationships to both industries: the shine is off tech, and there’s an appreciation for some of the benefits of pharma. But the pandemic also highlighted how deeply they’re entangled in most people’s day-to-day lives, and how much they govern how we live, work, and move through the world. The past year showed that we can’t really go without either one — but that doesn’t mean we have to like them.
Here’s what happened this week.