Pharma's reputation has soared during COVID-19 pandemic, poll finds

Consumers' impression of pharma companies has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 40% now reporting that they have a more positive view of the industry than they did before the pandemic began, according to recent data from The Harris Poll.

The positive sentiment, expressed by survey respondents between April 11 and April 13, represents upward momentum. Between March 21 and 23, only 33% of Americans said their view of pharma had gotten more positive. Harris Poll has been tracking the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumer views across a wide swath of industries for the past six weeks.

While industry experts and watchers have been cautiously optimistic that the pharma industry's concerted efforts to fight COVID-19 might result in a reputation boost, the Harris Poll data is the first major market survey to show clear evidence.

Pharma’s boost in the survey wasn’t as high as healthcare workers' or grocery store retailers', but as Harris Poll managing director Rob Jekielek noted, its uptick outranks other industries that might have expected a reputation boost, such as financial services or automotive.

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Healthcare workers ranked highest, he said, with 65% of consumers citing a more positive view of that industry, followed by grocery retailers (53%) and technology (41%).

Pharma tracking so closely with technology is also significant, Jekielek said. That’s because the technology industry halo is often disproportionately positive to the actual actions its companies have taken, while pharma tends to get the opposite negative halo effect that can pull it down.

“It’s particularly relevant to see both of those industries on par,” he said. “It fits into the broader narrative that during COVID-19 people are better able to get their heads around what a pharmaceutical company does and can do. It’s become a lot more tangible especially as a variety of pharma companies have moved down the path to create real solutions.”

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The pharma industry’s poor reputation over the past few years is well-documented, including in previous research from Harris Poll. Its pre-COVID-19 data from January and February shows that only 32% of Americans had a positive view of the pharma industry at the time, ranking it third from the bottom among 12 industry categories. Only government (25%) and tobacco (17%) garnered fewer positive opinions. Technology ranked highest with 75% of Americans holding a positive view, followed by retail grocery at 73%.