Poll Finds Most Voters Think Companies Are Exploiting Pandemic to Raise Prices

As large corporations post record profits, nearly two-thirds of voters agree that corporations are taking advantage of the pandemic in order to raise prices, new polling has found.

The poll of over 1,500 likely voters, conducted by Data for Progress in collaboration with Groundwork Collaborative this month, found that 63 percent of all respondents think that corporations are using the pandemic to pad profits. Only 29 percent said that the companies have no choice but to raise prices to cover operational costs.

This belief is widely held regardless of political affiliation, according to the survey. Seventy-six percent of Democratic voters said that companies are taking advantage of the pandemic, along with 62 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans.

A smaller number of voters believe that companies are using inflation in particular to unfairly raise prices, with 50 percent agreeing and 41 percent saying that price increases are due to the government. Still, that is a nine point margin in favor of believing that corporations are profiteering, with 72 percent of Democrats agreeing as such.

“It’s no secret that corporations are taking advantage of this pandemic and patterns of consumption it has accelerated,” Ethan Winter, senior polling analyst for Data for Progress, told Truthout. “Executives openly admit to doing so on quarterly earnings calls. American consumers are stuck bearing higher prices for goods on shelves and in stores.”

Evidence shows that corporations are indeed using inflation to jack up prices more than they would need to to cover rising costs of production. Though inflation is at record highs, corporations have raised or are planning to raise prices while simultaneously posting record profits.

Starbucks recently announced that it’s planning to raise prices, even while its profits increased by 22 percent over a two-year span in the fourth quarter of 2021. Tyson’s first quarter profits for 2022 nearly doubled as meat prices soar, while Exxon marked its highest earnings in seven years in the fourth quarter of 2021 – and the list goes on.

Corporate executives even admit to exploiting inflation since the start of the pandemic; in earnings calls, executives have outright said that rising inflation is an opportunity to profit. Kroger, Albertsons, Procter & Gamble, Chipotle and Kraft Heinz are just a few companies that have lauded inflation in the past few months.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in a hearing last month that higher prices for goods could be due simply to corporate decisions to price gouge. Prices could be rising because “demand is incredibly strong and [corporations are] raising prices because they can,” he said in a Senate hearing.

Though voters don’t necessarily know that corporations are doing this, likely voters surveyed by Data for Progress said that corporate pricing is making goods more expensive. Eighty-two percent of surveyed voters said that corporate price gouging is contributing to inflation.

Although not all voters agreed on the root causes of rising prices, an overwhelming majority said that the government should crack down on corporate profiteering and enforce antitrust laws. A whopping 80 percent of likely voters responded as such, including 88 percent of Democrats.

The polling demonstrates that cracking down on corporate price hikes could be a popular move for Joe Biden and Democrats to take ahead of crucial midterm elections this fall. Biden recently directed his administration to look into potential antitrust moves that corporations are making.

However, his administration is stopping short of directly blaming corporations for increased prices, as some economists in the administration hesitate to back this messaging. Language pointing the finger at corporations was taken out of recent remarks from an administration official before Congress, The Washington Post found earlier this month.

Meanwhile, progressive lawmakers have been sounding the alarm about how prices are hurting consumers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), for instance, has prodded real estate firms, grocers, the car rental company Hertz, and more, asking that they explain their role in rising rents, grocery prices, and other goods, and pinning the likely cause on corporate greed.

In a recent tweet about Chipotle’s shares rising, Warren said, “This CEO bragged about their ‘pricing power.’ Let me translate that from economist-speak: they can raise prices and extract profit from consumers without worrying about losing too much business. Big corporations are raising prices because they can.”