A new survey from the Public Affairs Council finds that companies are increasingly putting their clout into the political arena by speaking out on sometimes divisive political issues. Groups who speak up are more likely to join a coalition than to create a public statement of their own.
At one time, it was seen as risky for corporations to take a stance on political issues. But in recent years, businesses as diverse as Facebook, Starbucks, and the NBA have done just that, with mixed results.
Pressure is rising for corporations to speak up, and associations and other groups focused on advocacy stand to benefit from the shift. That’s one key finding from a new survey by the Public Affairs Council (PAC), which queried 92 companies on the issue.
So what’s driving companies’ increased interest in political advocacy? Simply put, their employees are demanding it.
Sixty percent of survey respondents reported having experienced an increase in pressure to speak up on social issues, 15 percent significantly. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they expect pressure to increase over the next three years.
The heat is on particularly at U.S.-based public companies, which face input from a wide variety of stakeholders, including shareholders, political leaders, and advocacy groups.
The biggest issues that companies are speaking up on include the environment (74 percent); discrimination based on sexual orientation (59 percent), gender (54 percent), gender identity (52 percent), and race (50 percent); and human rights (49 percent).
“Many of these social issues are now viewed as business issues,” PAC President Doug Pinkham said in a news release. “They affect a company’s ability to attract and retain talent and meet the expectations of customers. Other areas of involvement also demonstrate the belief that it’s possible for a firm to be financially successful while protecting the environment and supporting local communities.”
In choosing tactics for political advocacy, companies appear to have discovered the power of collaborative action to move the needle on issues: 64 percent of respondents said they acted by joining a coalition. Publicly traded companies joined coalitions at an even higher rate (73 percent). Just under half issued press releases or other public statements of their own.
About half (51 percent) lobbied at the federal level, and 45 percent lobbied at the state level.
“As expectations rise for companies to engage via communications, advocacy or legal means—and as the implications for business become more clear—companies’ ability to influence the discussion about social causes is likely to increase,” according to a PAC report on the results.