I’m writing this post after listening to a fascinating podcast (podcasts make treadmill time go faster…) from a site called “Capital Isn’t”–part of the University of Chicago’s impressive podcast network.
The scholars were interviewing Richard Edelman, the CEO of Edelman, a company that describes itself as a “global communications firm that partners with businesses and organizations to evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations.” In other words, a PR organization. The conversation focused on the withdrawal of hundreds of companies from Russia in the wake of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, presumably at some considerable cost to their bottom lines, and the motivations that prompted those companies to become partisans in a geopolitical conflict.
The interviewers, who are economics professors at the University of Chicago, suggested that the willingness of big business to speak up on social and political issues is a relatively new phenomenon, and Edelman agreed. Citing his firm’s extensive research, he sketched out what that research has uncovered about the global public opinion changes that have led to somewhat surprising changes in corporate and business behavior.
According to Edelman, it all comes down to trust–and it turns out that Americans trust business far more than government, for reasons that won’t surprise anyone who regularly reads this blog (or the comparative few who read my 2009 book, Distrust, American Style.)
The statement that absolutely gobsmacked me–and according to Edelman, absolutely stunned him–was that in the most recent iteration of the firm’s research–and for the first time ever–Republicans trusted business less than Democrats. Evidently, they view most business enterprises these days as “too woke.”
As Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld writes, he has watched this split grow in recent years, and has heard it from CEOs he knows and works with.
What the GOP cares about and what major businesses care about are, increasingly incompatible, he says.
“The political desire to use wedge issues to divide—which used to be fringe in the GOP—has become mainstream,” Sonnenfeld says. “That is 100 percent at variance with what the business community wants. And that is a million timesmore important to them than how many dollars of taxes are paid here or there.”
If you think about it, the implications of the “divorce” between business and the GOP are staggering–at the very least, it would seem to explain the flight of those once dominant “country club Republicans” from today’s cultish GOP, with its singular focus on religious/cultural issues and its abandonment of an economic policy agenda. It is also one more bit of evidence that the impetus for the nation’s polarization–the core conflict– is between citizens frantically rejecting efforts at inclusion and acceptance of diversity–aka “wokeness”–and the rest of us.
And speaking of “the rest of us,” the survey found that suspicion and distrust of outsiders (however defined) had grown. Trust is increasingly reserved for ones’ co-workers and neighbors.
You can access the “Top Ten” findings of that Trust survey here.The much longer body of the survey is also posted on the company’s website.
Of all the institutions studied, business was the most trusted, at 61%. That was more than NGOs at 59%, government at 52% and media at only 50%. “Seventy-seven percent of respondents, however, trust “My Employer,” making the relationship between employer and employee incredibly important.” Despite business outscoring government by 53 points on competency and 26 points on ethics (!), respondents believe the business community is not doing enough to address a number of social issues–including climate change (52%), economic inequality (49%), workforce re-skilling (46%) and the dissemination of trustworthy information (42%).
Concerns over fake news or false information being used as a weapon is at an all-time high of 76%. Forty-eight percent of respondents see government and media as divisive forces in society. Government leaders and journalists are the least trusted social actors today–fewer than half of respondents trust either, and majorities of respondents–including large majorities of business employees– want businesses to step up.
Across every single issue, by a huge margin, people want more business engagement, not less. For example, on climate change, 52% say business is not doing enough, while only 9% say it is overstepping. The role and expectation for business has never been clearer, and business must recognize that its societal role is here to stay.
The research also found that, worldwide, trust in democracy–already low– fell further over the last year. Given the gridlock imposed on American government by the GOP–not to mention its very public efforts to ensconce autocracy here– the 5-point decline in the U.S. is entirely understandable, albeit very worrisome.
All in all, I encourage you to read the findings and/or listen to the podcast–then join me in pondering the implications.