Americans are split over whether companies should express their viewpoints on political and social issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and abortion rights, according to a new Gallup poll.
The findings, released Tuesday, show 48% of adults in the United States think businesses should express a stance, with 52% saying they should not, according to the Force for Good Survey conducted by Gallup and Bentley University.
The survey asked 5,757 people across the country what they thought about the impact of business, which Gallup says can be a “powerful force for positive change in our society.”
While adults were split over whether businesses should voice political or social stances, the numbers change when age is factored in. For younger adults, 59% believe businesses should take a stance, with the percentage dropping to 43% for those 60 and older.
“Unlike previous generations who believed that individual consumers had the power to effect positive social, political and economic change, millennials and Gen Z have a more sophisticated view,” said Susan Dobscha, professor of marketing at Bentley University.
“They believe businesses should be taking on big problems because they have the ability to improve conditions related to the environment and diversity,” she said.
When it comes to political parties, 75% of Democrats believe businesses should take a stand on social issues, while only 18% of Republicans and 40% of independents agree.
“Democrats see corporate executives as allies in recent social conflicts, but they should be careful what they wish for,” Jeff Moriarty, professor of philosophy at Bentley University, said.
“Eventually, they will find themselves on opposing sides of an issue, and then encouraging corporations to get more involved in politics will seem like a bad idea,” Moriarty said.
The response also shows a difference when racial and ethnic groups are considered. About three-quarters of Asian and Black adults believe businesses should announce their views on political and social issues, while 49% of Hispanic adults and 41% of White adults feel the same.
More women than men prefer to hear businesses speak out, with 52% of all women surveyed and 43% of men believing that companies should take a public stance on current events.
As some companies have issued internal and external statements on political and social issues, others worry about whether those stances could negatively impact their brand with customers or employees.
“As we become more and more interconnected, consumers now have way more information about the companies they patronize than they ever did before,” said Andy Aylesworth, professor of marketing at Bentley University.
“Since everything a brand does or doesn’t do becomes part of its image, and consumers have more points of reference for each brand, they expect the brands they buy to represent who they are to a greater degree,” Aylesworth said. “And if a brand doesn’t share my values, I don’t want to share my money.”