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Companies Are Realizing That Being Publicly Conservative Is Really Unpopular

A new poll shows that people like brands more when they embrace progressive causes like LGBTQ rights, and dislike companies that support Republicans.

by Harry Cheadle
Aug 20 2019, 3:09pm

Left: A photo of a billboard of Colin Kaepernick from his most recent Nike campaign, which inspired conservative backlash. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Right: A Getty stock image of a sneaker burning.

For a while now, conservatives have been complaining that big corporations, from social media giants to Nike, are biased against right-leaning values. A new poll from Morning Consult highlighted by Axios Monday morning shows why they’re probably right. It also suggests that there's good reason for companies to take a progressive stand: The buying public is on the left side of a lot of culture-war issues.

Corporations aren't doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, because they don't have hearts. But they do have shareholders, and often getting publicly progressive helps the bottom line. Signing Colin Kaepernick, for instance, has boosted Nike's stock price, controversy and all.

The Morning Consult poll, which surveyed around 2,200 Americans, had a number of findings, but the one Axios pointed to was a list of "hot button issues" and the corresponding amount of respondents who felt positively or negatively about a company that took a stance on them. The most popular issues included LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, criminal justice reform, and civil rights—all causes associated with the political left. And while support for the campaign of a Democrat attracted 3 percent more approval than disapproval from those surveyed, support for a Republican was the least popular stance a company could take at -12.

A screenshot of a poll showing that people like corporations more when they come down on the liberal side of issues.
Screenshot via Morning Consult

While this is just one poll, it's true that in recent years companies have very publicly taken the liberal side in various debates. Pressure from the business community and boycotts from organizations like the NBA pushed North Carolina to partially repeal its infamous anti-trans "bathroom bill" in 2017 and big companies helped defeat similar legislation in Texas. Nike very prominently signed Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback allegedly blackballed from the league for kneeling during the National Anthem, to a major endorsement contract. Gillette recently made a kind of post-#MeToo "we need to do better, men" attitude a major part of its branding. Even WalMart, a corporation usually associated with red states, has been gradually restricting gun sales over the years and making an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Dick's Sporting Goods, which like WalMart remains a major gun retailer, joined the big box chain in limiting firearms sales.

This is surprising if you think of the two sides of the political spectrum as basically commanding an equal amount of public support, but as the Morning Consult polls shows, liberal positions are actually generally more popular than conservative ones. (This echoes other polls showing broad support for Democratic policies.) But the people who vote in America tend to be older and whiter than Americans as a whole, and older white people are more likely to vote Republican. In addition, the GOP primary electorate skews old, white, and male, so the voters who are responsible for putting Republicans in office—or unseating them in favor of challengers even further to the right—are more likely to be the kind of conservatives who are angry at Nike for pulling a shoe with a version of the U.S. flag on it.

Republicans have become really good at winning elections without broad popular support, in part thanks to tactics like gerrymandering and laws that restrict access to the vote. They're also helped by the Senate and Electoral College, which give a disproportionate amount of power to rural voters in smaller states at the expense of Democratic voters, who are concentrated in major cities.



But ironically, given Republicans' exhortations about the virtues of the free market, companies that actually have to respond to the views of the market have realized there's a profit in portraying themselves as liberal. So while conservatives have succeeded in putting into power an administration that is chipping away at protections for LGBTQ people, Americans in general actually tend to support LGBTQ rights, or at least want the businesses they purchase products from to do so.

That doesn't mean that corporate America is a bastion of progressivism. Some companies avoid taking any position that could be at all controversial, even as remaining neutral is harder than ever in these polarized times. And executives tend to be older white men, the exact demographic most likely to back Republicans. That's how you get the head of the company that owns Equinox gyms donating heavily to Donald Trump, even as the blue-state customer base of Equinox launches a boycott that might actually hurt the company.

If you're a conservative, it might seem a little unfair that Nike can align with Kaepernick and rise in value, while a donation to the president can hurt Equinox's bottom line. But that's not because there's some liberal coastal elite conspiracy to push a leftist cultural Marxism agenda. What's happening is that the country as a whole actually doesn't support political conservatism, and boardrooms have recognized that fact. The Morning Consult poll was the latest reminder that even though Trump is in the White House, the Americans he speaks for are a shrinking minority of mostly older white people. And their days in power may be numbered.

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