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Press Release

As Government Probe of Online Companies Continues, Poll Shows Americans Highly Satisfied with Search Options, Skeptical of Regulation

For Immediate Release March 7, 2012
Pete Sepp, (703) 683-5700
Douglas Kellogg, (703) 683-5700

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(Alexandria, VA) – When it comes to accessing the Internet, adults across America feel they have many options for doing so, and are strongly opposed to government regulation of online search functions. Those are the primary findings of an IBOPE Zogby International poll commissioned by the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), a nonpartisan citizen group. The poll was conducted between March 2nd and 5th, covering 2,007 respondents with a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points.

“These poll results could not speak more loudly or clearly: across numerous demographic categories, Americans firmly believe the marketplace for finding information online is highly competitive,” said NTU Executive Vice President Pete Sepp. “Equally important, the overwhelming skepticism they’ve voiced over government intervention in this marketplace should serve as a warning to policymakers who are pursuing burdensome federal investigations of online search practices.”

Poll results affirmed that consumers find information online in many ways: 84 percent of those polled use a search engine, 72 percent directly access a website, 36 percent utilize social media, and 18 percent employ another method such as a mobile phone application. But other questions probed issues of choice and competition more deeply:

  • Confirming this wide range of choices, 87 percent agreed with the statement “I feel I can easily switch to a competing search engine if I’m not happy with the results I receive;” just 8 percent said they were “stuck with using a particular search engine and don’t have the ability to switch.”
  • Respondents were then asked whether “the federal government should regulate the content and appearance of search engines and their results.” A whopping 79 percent strongly or somewhat disagreed with this idea, compared to 12 percent who strongly or somewhat agreed. The depth of opposition was striking – 64 percent strongly disagreed versus just 3 percent who strongly agreed.
  • Participants were presented with arguments about more enforcement of federal antitrust laws, and then asked to choose which statement was most true. A massive 76 percent agreed that “More government involvement and regulation will make the Internet worse for consumers,” while just 8 percent thought that such involvement and regulation “will make the Internet better for consumers.”
  • Skepticism over government’s role in the Internet was present among all major demographic groups, including age, income, educational attainment, and even ideology. Self-identified liberals still expressed opposition to both search engine regulation and increased antitrust enforcement by roughly 3 to 1 margins. The trend was similar for those declaring themselves Democrats.
  • Democrats felt the government should NOT regulate the "content and appearance of search engines and their results" by an overwhelming 68 percent. Democrats also strongly aligned against more government involvement and regulation, with 56 percent saying it would make the internet worse for consumers. Republicans more strongly disagreed with government regulation of search engines with 89 percent (77 percent strongly disagreed). The self-identified Republicans almost uniformly agreed "government involvement and regulation will make the internet worse for consumers" as 94 percent registered that response.
  • Broken down by political ideology: 64 percent of 'Liberals', 79 percent of 'Moderates', and 88 percent of 'Conservatives' disagreed with more federal regulation of "the content and appearance of search engines and their results." When judging whether "more enforcement of federal antitrust laws will make the Internet more competitive and responsive to consumers," 51 percent of Liberals said such measures would make the Internet worse, as did 73 percent of Moderates, and 93 percent of Conservatives.
  • Younger generations are more strident in their opposition to government regulation. 88 percent of 18-29 year olds opposed government regulation of the content and appearance of search engines, as did 79 percent of 30-49 year olds, 75 percent of 50-64 year olds, and 74 percent of 65 years and older. 81 percent of the 18-29 age group felt "more government involvement and regulation will make the internet worse for consumers"; compared to 77 percent of 30-49 year olds, 74 percent of 50-64 year olds, and 70 percent of those older than 65.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, NTU was a leading grassroots participant in the antitrust debate from the conservative community, advocating policies that stress consumer freedom, private-sector innovation, and limited government involvement. Last year the group expressed concern over Federal Trade Commission investigations of the online search marketplace. Full poll results and more demographic breakdowns are available HERE and HERE.