Most of us aren’t looking to make a political statement when we’re shopping for sneakers or beer. 

But that hasn’t stopped America’s top brands from repeatedly weighing in on today’s political and social debates, turning what was once a mundane decision for customers into a controversial choice.

While some, including Shark Tank host Mark Cuban, believe that activism is good for business, this summer’s consumer boycotts and profit losses showed that corporate activism may not be an effective strategy for long-term success. Anheuser-Busch stocks plummeted and the company struggled to get people to drink Bud Light for free after the company partnered with activist Dylan Mulvaney for a marketing campaign. Meanwhile, Target’s rollout of a controversial line of “Pride” apparel targeting children led to a net loss of $15 billion in stock market value.  

And now, new polling data suggests that these customer protests were not one-off events. A survey from Gallup and Bentley University indicates that a majority of Americans – nearly 60% – think companies should not take a public stance on hot-button cultural issues. Fox News reports that this number is up from 52% last year, and that most people would prefer companies remain neutral on especially contentious topics:

“Over 60% of Democrats said businesses should publicly announce where they fall on political issues, which is down from 75% in 2022. In contrast, just 17% of Republicans and 36% of independents came to the same conclusion as their Democratic counterparts, which is down from 18% and 40%, respectively, in 2022.”

“Issues that Americans are most in favor of businesses taking a stance on include climate change (55%), mental health (52%), free speech (49%) and healthcare (48%) while the least popular areas include abortion (26%), political candidates (19%) and religion (15%). 

Only 37% of Americans think businesses should take a public stance on LGBTQ+ issues, 45% on racial issues, 39% on gun laws, 34% on immigration policy and 27% on international conflicts.”

These results come on the heels of an Ipsos poll commissioned by Alliance Defending Freedom that suggests corporate activism risks alienating employees.

In the 2023 Freedom at Work survey of over 3,000 American adults employed across a wide variety of professions, a plurality (44%) of participants said they were uncomfortable with their employer taking a stance on a hot-button cultural issue that contradicts the views of many employees and customers. The survey also found that employees are nervous about retaliation for sharing their opinions – both on and off the clock. One in 4 US employees say they know someone who’s been punished for respectfully sharing their political viewpoints at work, and 54% of U.S. employees worry that sharing political content on their own social media accounts could result in negative consequences at work.

So why do corporations continue to dabble in divisive activism when customers and employees have voiced their dissatisfaction?

ADF Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President of Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco wrote in a Townhall article that companies are caving to pressure from outside activists instead of listening to their customers and employees:

“Corporations are effectively held hostage by powerful asset managers—like Blackrock, Vanguard, and State Street—who demand that they adhere to an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) agenda. In order to earn the stamp of approval from these powerful shareholders, companies participate in scoring systems created by left-wing organizations who set the agenda for how they respond to cultural issues.

These organizations require complete fealty—with no room to question the methods or demands and no forgiveness if you deviate even a little from their program.”

According to Tedesco, corporate leaders will find more success if they “work for the good of their employees, customers, and shareholders by scaling back their political activism and cultivating respect for diverse religious and political views,” both internally and externally.

Many Americans are ready for corporations to go back to what they do best – creating valuable products. Viewpoint Diversity Score’s Business Index can help companies avoid becoming the next Bud Light by respecting people’s freedom to speak their mind and to live according to their conscience.

Read more about the new Gallup poll here, and the 2023 Freedom at Work survey here.