Disgust and lost confidence in our institutions
The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita
For several years now, we have watched our mock jurors express increasing disgust at government, large corporations, and politicians. We have written before about their unwillingness to identify with a national political party and the 2014 Gallup Poll showing the same pattern we have been seeing on a national basis.
In a recent pretrial focus group involving an auto accident resulting in death, jurors began spontaneously talking about General Motors and their ignition problems and the choice to keep it a secret (even though GM was not involved in the fact pattern and was not raised in the presentations). They expressed high levels of disgust with GM and then acknowledged that disgust colored their perceptions of the auto manufacturer involved in the current dispute. Then a juror mentioned Wall Street and the mortgage collapse and another mentioned political logjams in Congress and they had to be refocused on the case at hand.
As they deliberated, the themes of disgust and distrust returned repeatedly with jurors who were all-too-willing to assume the worst of the Defendants. From the jurors’ perspectives, the auto maker’s advertising/marketing plan was a lie, the consumer trusted the safety testing as reported, purchased the vehicle, and now they were dead. It could have been any one of them (and when one of them commented on this reality, most of them shook their heads in continued disgust). The damage award was large. The punitive award was larger. And it all seemed affected– or at least consistent with– feelings of disgust and distrust in our institutions.
So when Gallup came out with their recent poll on how Americans are losing confidence in all branches of government, we thought of our mock jurors.
In the past 25 years, confidence in our government has eroded pretty consistently with all three branches (the US Supreme Court, Congress, and the Presidency) taking hits as Americans express lower and lower levels of confidence. Currently, fewer than 1 in 10 Americans have confidence in Congress. Does that surprise us? Not really. We’ve been tracking the loss of confidence in public institutions in pretrial research projects over the last 10 years.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, the important thing for defendants is to craft an identity for your client that sets your client corporation apart from the rest. Frame your particular client as different from, or changed from what they once were, and allow jurors to line up in support of corporate change. But you better have credible evidence to show them you really are different because at this point, the public assumes the worst unless you show them something better.