This report was written by Jennifer Tonti and Jill Mizell.
In collaboration with our survey research partner, The Harris Poll, JUST Capital has been polling the American public on how they expect companies to respond to the most crucial issues of today, including the COVID-19 pandemic and our national reckoning with racial injustice.
With the 2020 presidential election fast approaching, this week we take a look at whether – and to what extent – the public expects companies to uphold democracy. Do companies have a role to play? To what degree? How can they best serve the public?
- Three in four Americans say that large companies have a role to play in preserving and protecting democracy.
- How can companies help? By making their voice heard using a variety of initiatives. A large majority (62% or more) of Americans agree that companies can make an impact in maintaining democracy by:
- Making voting more accessible by allowing workers time off to vote in federal, state, and local elections (69%)
- Limiting lobbying efforts that favor shareholder returns over the welfare of other constituencies (65%)
- Taking an active stand against the spread of disinformation by identifying and debunking falsehoods and propaganda (63%)
- Safeguarding the integrity of elections against foreign interference and/or cyberattacks (62%)
- Directing political donations toward candidates whose platforms explicitly support upholding democracy (62%)
Make voting accessible. The No. 1 way Americans believe companies can support the democratic process is by making voting more accessible to their workforces. Just about seven in 10 people – almost equally across various demographics and crossing party lines – say that allowing workers time off to vote is a key means of protecting democracy in the United States.
Lobby for all stakeholders. Close to two-thirds (65%) agree that companies can take a moderate to significant role by restricting lobbying efforts that favor shareholders over other stakeholders.
Beat back disinformation and hacking attempts. Especially as we get closer to Election Day, Americans want companies to take a stand against dis- and misinformation campaigns across our nation’s communications platforms. More than 60% of Americans agree that companies can play a moderate or significant role by identifying and debunking falsehoods and propaganda, as well as by combating cyberattacks and hacking attempts targeting the U.S. election system.
Direct political donations toward pro-democracy candidates. 62% say that companies can play a moderate or significant role by donating to political candidates whose platforms explicitly support upholding democracy.
Views by Demographic
While the majority of respondents believe corporations have a moderate or significant role in upholding democracy in all the ways listed above, support varies significantly by different socio-economic characteristics. Education, income, and employment status correlate with some of the largest gaps in agreement between subgroups.
- For all the actions above, college graduates are much more likely to say corporations play a moderate or significant role in protecting democracy, compared to respondents with some college or less.
- Three in four respondents with a college degree or higher (75%) believe corporations can play a moderate or significant role in upholding democracy by limiting their lobbying efforts, compared to 64% of respondents with some college and 57% of respondents with a high school degree or less (a gap of 18 percentage points).
- Just 48% of respondents with a high school degree or less believe companies can help protect democracy in the U.S. by advocating against state policies that disenfranchise or suppress voters, compared to 57% of respondents with some college and 67% of respondents with a college degree or higher (a 19-percentage point gap).
- This pattern holds when examining attitudes by income and employment status: Those with a household income over $100K are more likely to support corporate action to protect democracy compared to those with a household income less than $50K; and respondents that are currently employed are more likely to support corporate action than those who are unemployed.
Black Americans show greater support for corporate action to protect democracy when compared to Hispanic and white respondents on a number of issues.
- Notably, 71% of Black respondents (compared to 56% of Hispanic and 54% of white respondents) believe corporations have a moderate or significant role in protecting democracy by advocating against state policies that restrict voting rights.
- Three in four Black respondents (74%) believe corporations can play a moderate or significant role by helping to protect the electoral system from foreign interference and cyberattacks (compared to 66% of Hispanic and 60% of white respondents).
- Hispanic and Black respondents are more likely to believe corporations can play a moderate or significant role in protecting democracy by taking an active stance against gerrymandering (65% and 63% respectively) compared to white respondents (53%).
- And while white respondents seem to be split about corporate America’s role in protecting democracy by pressuring Congress to delay filling the Supreme Court vacancy until after the presidential inauguration, 65% of Hispanic and 63% of Black respondents say corporations have a moderate or significant role to play (compared to 49% of white respondents).
Democrats are significantly more supportive of moderate or significant corporate action to protect democracy when compared to Republicans and Independents. This is somewhat surprising since fewer Democrats give corporate America an “A” grade for “just” behavior (20%, compared to 31% of Republicans), and 29% of Democrats believe corporations are having a negative impact on society overall (compared to 18% of Republicans).
- Despite greater distrust, Democrats are more likely to believe corporations should play a moderate or significant role in protecting democracy by fighting against state voter suppression laws (68%, compared to 52% of Republicans and Independents), by donating to political campaigns with explicit pro-democracy platforms (71%, compared to 57% of Republicans and 60% of Independents), and by asking Congress to wait until after the inauguration in January to confirm a Supreme Court Justice to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacant seat (66%, compared to 46% of Republicans and 51% of Independents).
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of JUST Capital between September 24-28, 2020, among 2,014 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
For complete research methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Jennifer Tonti, managing director of survey research and insights, firstname.lastname@example.org.