Companies Aren’t Going to Stop Speaking Up on Social Issues. And Voters Don’t Want Republicans to Punish Them for It.
Republican efforts to punish corporations for social advocacy are hypocritical and go against what voters want.
“Go woke. Go broke.”
Tweets and statements like this from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and other Republican policymakers send a clear message, that Republicans in Congress are deeply opposed to corporations speaking out on issues like reproductive health or combatting discrimination.
Yet, the rest of the country is moving in the opposite direction. Corporate social advocacy, like Disney’s stand against an anti-LGBTQ bill in Florida earlier this year and pledges by top tech companies to cover costs for employees who travel out of state for an abortion, are widely popular, especially among Gen Z, as the generation increasingly enters the workforce.
This month, my organization, Chamber of Progress, released new polling examining voter attitudes toward punishing companies for speaking up on issues ranging from discrimination to reproductive care to diversity and inclusion.
While it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a majority of the public opposes politicians punishing private companies for speaking up, a close look at the poll reveals something more: The majority who oppose Congress punishing companies is bipartisan.
It’s not just Democrats and Gen Z voters that support the right of private companies to take a stand on social issues. A whopping 66% of Republican voters say they don’t think politicians should punish companies that speak out against discrimination. Sixty-two percent of Republican voters say they don’t want to see companies punished for speaking out in support of reproductive rights.
While the “war on woke” might earn Republican lawmakers points with far-right primary voters, they should keep in mind that party efforts to punish corporations have the potential to backfire. Americans widely support corporate efforts to speak up on issues like discrimination, and Republicans shouldn’t waste time and resources fighting it.
And it’s not just voters who support companies taking a stand. Corporations put progressive values into practice to win customers, attract and retain employees, and to adapt to changing generational attitudes. One recent study found that the majority of MBA students today would accept a lower salary to work for an environmentally conscious company, and global studies have consistently found that customers look to shop at businesses that align with their values.
In addition to following customer and employee values, inclusive policies are just plain good business. While Republican governors rail against diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, a recent study from Harvard Business Review shows that diverse companies have 19% higher revenue from innovation.
Hamstringing the private sector by silencing companies is also bad politics. Punishing corporations has only backfired for Republicans in the past. Take Disney, for example.
When Republicans introduced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida last year, Disney responded to pressure from employees and other Floridians and took a stand against the legislation — to the clear dismay of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. In retaliation against Disney, DeSantis used his political power to strip Disney of state tax benefits the company had benefited from for decades.
What did Disney do? It dug in its heels, promising to put more LGBTQ representation in its films and halting donations to Florida lawmakers. Considering the immediate outpouring of corporate support for abortion access months later as Roe v. Wade was overturned, it’s clear that Republican attempts to intimidate corporations out of standing up for social issues aren’t having their intended impact.
For a party that has historically championed the free market and corporations’ own free speech rights, Republicans have changed their tune now that many corporate leaders disagree with their stances. Private companies have a right to set their own policies, decide where their dollars go and use their voices how they like. Republican lawmakers can’t stifle that — and their constituents don’t want them to.
Adam Kovacevich is the founder and CEO of the Chamber of Progress, a center-left tech industry policy coalition promoting technology’s progressive future. Follow Adam on Twitter at @adamkovac.