CONSUMER JUSTICE: Oversight, Accountability, and Arbitration

Oregonians discuss their experiences as consumers, specifically in relation to arbitration agreements and company accountability.

From October 18-26, 2023, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC) conducted opinion research about issues of consumer justice and consumer rights in Oregon. This survey was conducted in partnership with Oregon Consumer Justice (OCJ) to assist in their mission to advance consumer justice, shape an equitable and inclusive marketplace, and improve Oregonians’ rights as consumers. This memo summarizes key findings.   

For more explanation on how to interact with the data, please scroll to the end of the post.

Summary

  • A strong majority of Oregonians believe that state and federal agencies and individuals who have been harmed should be able to hold companies accountable when they violate the law.
  • Six in ten say they would personally file a complaint or lawsuit against a company that had violated their rights under the law, citing accountability, protecting consumer rights, and seeking justice as motivations. Those who are unsure or disinclined to seek legal recourse cite cost, complexity, and lack of impact.
  • While a slim majority of Oregonians believe that class action lawsuits help consumers hold companies accountable, unsure responses remain high, indicating a lack of awareness about the intent and impact of such legal actions. This relatively low level of awareness extends to Oregonians’ understanding of terms and conditions in agreements, as well as arbitration agreements. Being provided primer information on the latter concept made little impact on respondents’ awareness levels, with the greatest disparity appearing in their confidence in their own understanding of the full terms of an agreement.  

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Oversight and Accountability

  • An overwhelming 90% of Oregonians believe that state and federal agencies should be able to hold companies accountable when they violate the law and a nearly identical 89% believe that individuals who have been harmed should be able to do so as well (Q6-7) 
    • Strong majorities of all major demographic subgroups agree with both sentiments.  
    • An OVBC survey from March-April 2023 found that 76% believe both individuals harmed, and state/federal agencies should be able to hold companies accountable when they violate the law. The fact that this question lumped individuals and government agencies together in March-April likely explains the higher rate of “maybe” responses (17%) in that survey.  
  • Most Oregonians (59%) say they would file a complaint or lawsuit against a company if they knew said company had violated their rights under the law (Q8).  
    • A notable percentage of respondents (35%) say they are unsure how they would respond in this situation, including 51% of those ages 75+, as well as 40% of whites compared to 23% of BIPOC Oregonians, a significant 17-point difference.  
    • This high rate of unsure responses was reflected in the March-April 2023 OVBC survey, when 43% of respondents responded that class action lawsuits only “maybe” help consumers hold companies accountable. 
  • When exploring the motivations behind filing complaints or lawsuits against companies for violations, several recurring themes emerge (Q9). Those inclined to take legal action cite a desire for corporate accountability, safeguarding their own and others’ rights, and the pursuit of justice as primary reasons for doing so. 
    • Among those uncertain about taking legal steps, accountability remains a consideration. However, their decision hinges on the severity of the violation, balancing the costs of time, money, and effort. They also express concerns about convoluted procedures and the perception that such actions may yield little impact. 
    • For the 5% of Oregonians disinclined to file complaints or lawsuits against violating companies, complex procedures, high associated costs, and doubt about achieving any worthwhile impact are the foremost deterrents. 
  • Four in ten (40%) say they have received a settlement from a class action lawsuit (Q10).  
    • The percentage of respondents who say they have received a class action settlement tends to increase with higher age, education, and income levels, and was higher among whites than BIPOC Oregonians (45% vs. 25%).  
  • A slim majority (53%) believe that class action lawsuits help consumers hold companies accountable, up slightly from 44% in March-April 2023. Again, unsure responses (33%) remain high, indicating a lack of awareness about the intent and impact of such legal actions (Q11).  
    • Those who say class action lawsuits do not help consumers hold companies accountable say the penalties are insufficient to deter companies, lawyers end up with most of the money, and consumers don’t benefit (Q12). 

Arbitration Agreements

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, only one-third (34%) say they “always” or “often” read agreements or terms and conditions when signing up for an online account, service, or purchase, which is virtually unchanged from March-April 2023 (31%). Such readership rates typically score low in public opinion polling (Q13).  
    • Notably, Oregonians who earn less than $50K per year report that they read such agreements more often than those earning $100K or more (40% vs. 25%), perhaps indicating that they have more to lose from overlooking such details as cancelation fees and unexpected charges.  
  • Among those who say they read agreements or terms and conditions at least some of the time, understanding of such information is mixed, with a plurality (37%) saying they understand them only “sometimes.” Only 10% say they understand them “always” (Q14). Strong understanding is not indicated anywhere across the demographic spectrum.  
  • Similarly, only one in ten (8%) say they are “very” familiar with arbitration agreements, while 36% express that they are “somewhat” familiar with the concept (Q15). Overall, one-quarter of respondents say they are not at all familiar with arbitration agreements or unsure about the concept all together. Other research has shown low levels of understanding about legal concepts such as arbitration and class action suits, as demonstrated earlier in this survey. 
    • Familiarity with arbitration agreements tends to increase with age, income, and education levels, and is higher among whites than BIPOC Oregonians (48% vs. 32%), a trend observed elsewhere in this survey.  
  • Survey respondents were split into two groups and asked questions about arbitration agreements. One group was given no advance information about such agreements, while the other group was provided the following primer: An arbitration agreement gives up your right to take a company to court to resolve any issues, violations, or poor treatment. Instead, a third party hears the dispute and makes a legally binding decision. Responses between the two groups are largely consistent, however there are a few key insights worth noting (Q16-25). 
    • 32% of those who received the information about arbitration agreements report having signed one, compared to 23% of those who received no primer (Q16, Q21). This indicates that the provided language may have been effective in jogging respondent memories or clarifying the nature of an agreement they had participated in previously.  
    • Interestingly, those who did not receive the primer information about arbitration agreements, and reported having signed one in the past, were slightly more likely to say they understood the terms of the agreement before they signed it than those who did receive the primer (Q17, Q22). Respondents who read the primer may have realized there were details they had not been aware of in past agreements they have signed. However, this result is worth testing again later to see if the results change over time.   

  • There is no significant difference between those who were provided the primer info and those who were not when it came to noticing whether the terms and conditions in agreements that they had read in the past contained arbitration clauses (53% primer vs. 50% no primer) (Q18, Q23).  
  • Similarly, there is no significant difference between those who were provided the primer info and those who were not when it comes to noticing whether an agreement for an account, service, or purchase included the option to opt out of an arbitration agreement (26% primer vs. 27% no primer) (Q19, Q24). 
  • Finally, there is again no significant difference between those who were provided the primer info and those who were not when it comes to reporting whether one had ever signed an agreement and elected to opt out of arbitration (7% primer vs. 8% no primer) (Q20, Q25). 

Methodology: The online survey consisted of 1,489 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and the data was weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education. 

Statement of Limitations: Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error for the full sample is ±2.54%. Due to rounding or multiple-answer questions, response percentages may not add up to 100%. 

More Information:

Understanding and Interacting with the Data

The question numbers in this document correspond with the accompanying annotated questionnaire and tabs. Due to rounding, the percentages reported below may not add up to 100% or compare exactly to the percentages for the same question in the annotated questionnaire or tabs. 

Included below for selected questions are noteworthy subgroup variations for age, gender, area of the state, BIPOC/white, etc. The accompanying set of tabs notes subgroup variations for all the questions. 

OVBC surveys currently use aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability. 

For survey full question wording, all statistically significant subgroup findings, and respondent quotes, readers are encouraged to refer to the accompanying documents: (1) annotated questionnaire, (2) crosstabulations, and (3) verbatim written responses spreadsheet (upon request). 

Acknowledgments

Oregon Consumer Justice: Oregon Consumer Justice is committed to advancing consumer justice, shaping an equitable and inclusive marketplace, and improving Oregonians’ rights as consumers through advocacy, legal support, community engagement, and consumer outreach.

Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC): This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. OVBC is an independent and non-partisan organization and an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation. Representative OVBC projects include opinion research about race-based crimes for the Asian Health and Service Center, as well as research about early childhood education and the cost of childcare for the Children’s Institute.