How appropriate is it for brands to speak out about societal events?

New Ipsos poll, on behalf of Golin, shows brand involvement in political, cultural events is a deeply partisan issue

The author(s)
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sara Machi Research Analyst, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, January 15, 2021 — Americans are generally split on the role of brands and CEOs to respond to societal events, such as the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, according to a new Ipsos poll for Golin. The mixed views overall are due to significant partisan disagreement on the role of businesses and whether they should take a stand, with Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to believe this is the case. There are also differing views by age, with younger people more open to brands getting involved in the public discourse.

Detailed Findings

While a majority of Americans feel it’s appropriate for companies and executives to comment on public events, most don’t feel particularly strongly that brands should wade into the debate.

  • Overall, 57% feel it’s appropriate for companies/brands and corporate executives to comment on events like the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Though a majority agree, this is on the lower end of various groups, on par with professional athletes and celebrities.
  • Moreover, only one in five believe it is very appropriate for companies/brands (21%) or executives (19%) to comment.
  • The American public is roughly split into thirds on whether businesses should take a stance only on issues they can realistically affect (33%), on all important issues (31%), or to focus only on their business and not comment on societal events (36%).

Underneath the surface, significant partisan divisions show that not everyone supports brands speaking publicly. Democrats are much more favorable to the idea than Republicans. To a lesser extent, younger Americans say it is appropriate in larger numbers than older people.

  • A plurality of Democrats feel businesses have a responsibility to take a stand on all important issues (46%). There is a 31-point difference between Democrats and Republicans here. On the flip side, over half of Republicans (56%) do not want businesses to comment on any societal events.
  • Most Republicans (58%) agree that business leaders should not speak about political controversies in the U.S., while just 37% of Democrats agree.
  • Americans under 35 are more likely to want businesses to take a stand on issues they can realistically affect, while people over 55 say in larger numbers that businesses should not comment on societal events.

It’s not about who is making the statement – people do not separate individual CEOs from brands/companies when it comes to making public statements and what’s appropriate. Instead, the subject matter and issue impacts the public’s perceptions.

  • People do not separate individual CEOs from brands when it comes to making public statements and what’s appropriate.
  • Majorities agree businesses and CEOs can take a stand around non-political events, such as pandemics or natural disasters. Fewer than half agree it is appropriate for businesses or CEOs to make statements around disputed elections, impeachment processes, or arguing against conspiracy theories around the 2020 election.
  • When it comes to specific actions, Americans prefer statements of unity and action, rather than taking sides. For example, 77% feel a statement from a brand that makes a commitment to help solve the issue is appropriate (74% say the same for CEOs), and 78% agree a statement calling Americans to unite is appropriate (77% say the same for CEOs). Half believe taking a very strong, public position about an event is appropriate (52% for brands/companies, 51% for CEOs).

Ultimately, focusing on business foremost is something everyone agrees on.

  • Sixty percent say a brand staying silent on the matter and focusing on business is appropriate. Majorities of people of all ages, both men and women, and Republicans and Democrats feel this is an appropriate reaction.
  • Two-thirds believe business leaders should focus on their employees and their business, not the political environment. While Republicans (78%) agree in much larger numbers, consistent with their views that brands should stay out of political issues, over half of Democrats agree as well (54%).

About the Study

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between January 12-13, 2021, on behalf of Golin. For this survey, a sample of 2,010 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English.

The sample for this study was randomly drawn from Ipsos’ online panel (see link below for more info on “Access Panels and Recruitment”), partner online panel sources, and “river” sampling (see link below for more info on the Ipsos “Ampario Overview” sample method) and does not rely on a population frame in the traditional sense. Ipsos uses fixed sample targets, unique to each study, in drawing a sample. After a sample has been obtained from the Ipsos panel, Ipsos calibrates respondent characteristics to be representative of the U.S. Population using standard procedures such as raking-ratio adjustments. The source of these population targets is U.S. Census 2018 American Community Survey data. The sample drawn for this study reflects fixed sample targets on demographics. Posthoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, and education.

Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online non-probability polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Where figures do not sum to 100, this is due to the effects of rounding. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Ipsos calculates a design effect (DEFF) for each study based on the variation of the weights, following the formula of Kish (1965). This study had a credibility interval adjusted for design effect of the following (n=2,010, DEFF=1.5, adjusted Confidence Interval=+/-4.0 percentage points).

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Mallory Newall
Director, U.S., Public Affairs
+1 202 420 2014
[email protected]

Kate Silverstein
Media Relations Specialist, U.S., Public Affairs
+1 718 755-8829
[email protected]

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The author(s)
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sara Machi Research Analyst, Public Affairs