Most Americans, across political lines, do not want companies speaking out on wider social issues, according to a recent survey that found “out of step” corporate executives “vastly overestimate” the importance of taking a stand.
The poll results, released on Monday in a study titled ‘The Talking Trap’, indicated that a bipartisan majority of voters from the 2020 election believe companies need to spend less time on unrelated social justice activism and focus on developing and selling their products.
The study, conducted by data analytics firm Brunswick Group between September and October, surveyed around 300 corporate leaders and 800 people who voted in the 2020 presidential election. Only 36% of voters believed “unequivocally” that companies needed to talk about social issues, while 63% of the executives thought it was important to do so.
Noting that the business elites were “out of step” with broader public sentiment by a factor of two to one, the report highlighted how corporate social engagement efforts are “all-too-often disbelieved as authentic… by people across every part of the political and socio-economic spectrum.”
While acknowledging that there was “enormous pressure” on organizations to “respond to everything that is happening,” the study warned that the “impulse to weigh in on any and every social issue” can hurt firms’ corporate reputations if they are “disregarded by audiences” and “disconnected from what people want.”
Meanwhile, the divide between corporate-think and public sentiment is just as pronounced when it comes to the perceived effectiveness of campaigns. The study noted a “highly inflated” sense of effectiveness among the nearly three-quarters of executives polled who “vastly overestimate” the success of such communications efforts, compared with just 39% of voters.
In addition, more than 60% of voters thought “companies only speak out on social issues to look better to consumers and are not being sincere,” whereas the majority of executives believed their actions are based on a desire to “achieve real change.”
Both sets of respondents were mostly divided on their prioritization of issues as well. While both groups ranked healthcare as the top concern, executives ranked climate change, data privacy, racism, and gun violence (in that order) as their next-most important issues, in order. Whereas the general public rated homelessness as their second area of concern, followed by mental health, unemployment, and crime prevention.