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JUST Report

Surveying the American Public on Corporate America’s Response to COVID-19

In collaboration with The Harris Poll – our strategic survey research partner – we have been going out to members of the American public on a regular basis, starting with an initial survey on March 24, to identify their views of just business during the coronavirus crisis, as well as their priorities for corporate action.

We unpack each wave of our survey results below.

Wave 4: People Over Profits

Against the backdrop of soaring unemployment numbers and initial moves to reopen the economy, our fourth wave of polling – conducted between April 29 and 30 – shows that the public remains hopeful about corporate America’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and that people continue to prioritize worker safety and well-being well above profitability.

Here are three new insights from our latest round of surveys:

 

1. Most people still believe America’s largest companies are showing leadership during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Echoing our last wave of results, a majority of survey respondents (58%) still believe America’s largest companies are showing leadership during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • While this finding is consistent with our results from two weeks ago (six out of 10), it interestingly contrasts with findings in the Spring 2020 iteration of the Edelman Trust Barometer, which shows that only 46% of U.S. respondents believe that companies are doing well or very well at implementing safety measures to protect workers and customers.
  • While the majority of younger respondents (aged 18-44) agree that companies are showing leadership, it is significantly fewer than those aged 65 or older – 52% vs. 68%, respectively.

  • Survey participants with a college education were previously split between whether companies are showing leadership or need to step up, but are now in agreement with respondents with some college or less.

 

2. People continue to agree that companies should prioritize the health and safety of frontline workers, as well as flexible work arrangements.

  • Similar to our last wave, close to 90% of respondents believe that companies should provide PPE, sanitize workplaces, and institute social distancing policies throughout the crisis.
  • A majority (~80%) also places a high priority on flexible work arrangements – including work from home and dependent care leave.
  • Women are more likely than men to say that providing PPE for frontline workers is a high priority (92% of women vs. 86% of men). Women are also more likely than men to say that providing 14 days of paid sick leave is a high priority (79% of women vs. 69% of men).

 

3. The vast majority of Americans believe companies should prioritize people over profits.

  • While it’s not ranked the highest priority, avoiding layoffs is a priority for the vast majority of Americans – with three in four saying companies should avoid layoffs, even if they must sacrifice profitability in the short term. They also acknowledge that layoffs may be necessary in order to stay in business.
  • There is an increasing willingness to trade off decreasing profits in order to stave off layoffs, up by six percentage points from our last poll (67% to 73%). Simultaneously, a slight majority of Americans surveyed (52%) felt that keeping the company in business even if it meant employee layoffs, should still be a high priority for companies.
  • These findings, together, suggest that Americans still strongly believe that companies should do all they can to retain their workforces, but may be conflicted about the potential business costs. This is not surprising, given that those filing for unemployment benefits continue to rise week after week, reaching 33 million as of today.

We will be continuing to build upon this survey effort – along with our ongoing Corporate Response Tracker – in the coming weeks. To download the topline survey results and methodology, click here, and stay tuned for our ongoing updates.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of JUST Capital between April 29-30, 2020 among 1,031 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online 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 Fiyin Adesina, Senior Manager of Survey Research.

Wave 3: Frontline Workers – Not Financial Solvency – Must Be the Priority

Now in our third wave of polling the American public, we asked a series of questions on April 14 to better understand what Americans believe companies should be prioritizing today – including those companies hardest hit by the crisis and slated to receive relief funds from the government. 

Here are three new insights from our latest round of surveys:

1. More people now believe that companies are demonstrating leadership compared to our past two polls.

  • In waves one and two of our polling – conducted on March 24 and April 1 – the public was divided in how they believed companies were responding to COVID-19 – with half believing that large companies are demonstrating leadership in their actions and the other half believing they need to do more to step up.
  • This week, for the first time, a majority of survey respondents (60%) now believe that America’s largest companies are showing leadership during the COVID-19 outbreak, a significant 10 percentage point increase. 
  • This upturn seems to be driven in part by:
    • People aged 65 or over: 68% of those 65+ believe companies are demonstrating leadership, compared to their younger counterparts (18-34 years: 58%; 35-44 years: 56%).
    • A majority of people with less than a college degree believe corporate America is showing leadership, while those with a college degree or higher remain split. 

These shifts in perception could be influenced by an increase in corporate action to protect workers and communities, and willingness by some executives to share the economic pain by voluntarily cutting their own pay.

2. The public agrees companies should prioritize the health and safety of their frontline workers.

  • In our most recent survey, we asked Americans what they believe companies should prioritize right now in order to address the COVID-19 outbreak. The vast majority prioritized the health and safety of frontline workers, with 91% agreeing that companies should provide a safe work environment for frontline workers, and 88% agreeing that frontline workers should be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Large majorities also believe companies should prioritize paid time off, hazard pay, and paid sick leave.
  • Importantly, less than half of respondents (48%) believe that companies should strive to stay in business, even if it means laying off workers – an unsurprising finding, considering that, in our previous polls, Americans agreed that companies should continue to support their workforces, even in the event of job loss, layoffs, and furloughs. 

We will continue to track this question to see if there are any changes in what Americans say companies should prioritize as the crisis progresses or abates.

 

3. Americans unanimously support many of the requirements companies must meet to receive government stimulus funds.

  • In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Congress passed The CARES Act – a $2 trillion relief bill intended to help keep businesses and individuals afloat, which included a $500 billion fund to assist large companies in distressed industries like airlines and hospitality. 
  • In Wave 3, we asked the public the extent to which they support or oppose each of the provisions of the bill that companies must meet to receive relief funds. A vast majority either strongly supported or somewhat supported all of these measures – from limiting executive pay and bonuses to providing 14 days of paid sick leave to contributing to relief efforts.

 

 

We will be continuing to build upon this survey effort – along with our ongoing Corporate Response Tracker – in the coming weeks. To download the topline survey results and methodology for the April 14 survey, click here, and stay tuned for our ongoing updates. 

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of JUST Capital between April 14-15, 2020 among 1,037 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online 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 Fiyin Adesina, Senior Manager of Survey Research.

Wave 2: How Should Companies Support Their Communities During the COVID-19 Crisis?

Last week, we launched a new initiative as part of our efforts to bring clarity to corporate responses to the coronavirus crisis – an ongoing omnibus survey that aims to pinpoint how Americans believe companies should act, as well as how they perceive responses today.

This week, we asked a series of questions targeting how the public thinks about community impacts – and found that nine out of 10 Americans surveyed expect companies to engage in some kind of community support during the COVID-19 crisis.

As part of our COVID-19 Corporate Response Tracker, we’ve been tracking what actions America’s 100 largest employers have taken to support communities – from shifting production to manufacture ventilators and protective gear for medical personnel, to giving software to schools for remote learning. In this week’s survey, we asked the public whether they want companies to support the communities they impact, as well as to prioritize which specific actions should be taken during the crisis.

Here are three new insights from our second wave surveying the public:

1. The majority of Americans polled want companies to support their communities during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Nine out of 10 survey respondents expect companies to engage in some kind of community support during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • We asked respondents to identify what they believe are the two most effective actions – out of seven presented – companies can take to support their communities. Of the options presented, respondents said it was most important that companies:
    • Help manufacture, acquire, and distribute medical supplies (43%); and 
    • Obtain protective equipment gear for frontline workers (42%).
  • Respondents aged 35-44 are less likely to prioritize the manufacture and distribution of medical supplies, assigning greater priority to actions supporting housing stability and school supplies compared to those aged 45 or higher. 

For a full breakdown of responses, and options presented, see our methodology here.

 

2. Whether or not companies are currently experiencing financial distress, people still expect them to support their communities during the pandemic.

  • We split survey respondents into two groups and asked them:
    • How they think companies experiencing the most financial distress (like hotels and airlines) should support their communities.
    • How they think companies across the board should support their communities.
  • There is no significant difference in how people believe companies should respond – regardless of whether they are in financial distress. Both groups of respondents want to see companies prioritize efforts that support the medical community and frontline workers by providing equipment and supplies related to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

3. For the second week, the public remains divided in how they believe corporations are responding to the crisis.

  • This week, half (50%) of survey respondents believe that large companies are demonstrating leadership in their actions, while the other half (50%) believe large companies need to do more to step up to prioritize the health, safety, and security of their workforce. 
  • These results were identical to those we found in our first week of this omnibus survey – suggesting that Americans remain uncertain in their perspective on corporate America’s response. 
  • This is an ongoing opportunity for companies to demonstrate to Americans that there is a meaningful role for the private sector in helping society through this public health crisis.

We will be continuing to build upon this survey effort – along with our ongoing Corporate Response Tracker – in the coming weeks. To download the topline survey results and methodology for the April 1st survey, click here, and stay tuned for our ongoing updates. 

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of JUST Capital between March 31 and April 1, 2020 among 1,056 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online 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 Jill Mizell, Director of Survey Research.

 

Wave 1: The Public’s Views on Corporate America’s Response to COVID-19

With each passing week of the coronavirus crisis, corporate America faces new, strange challenges that are testing the nation’s business leaders – as well as workers, customers, and communities across the country. What constitutes the right – and just – course of action is near impossible to define, and companies must consider next steps that could impact their stakeholders for months, if not years, to come. 

In addition to the initiatives we’ve begun – tracking how companies are responding, identifying key principles for action, and highlighting real-time examples of companies taking the lead – we’ve launched a critical new effort that is central to understanding what is needed from corporate America at this time: We’re asking members of the American public what matters most to them.

Joining forces with The Harris Poll – our new strategic survey research partner – to conduct an omnibus survey, we have been going out to members of the American public on a regular basis to identify their views of just business during the coronavirus crisis, as well as their priorities for corporate action.

Here are four key insights from our first week of polling conducted on March 24:

1. The public appears to be divided on how they believe corporations are responding to the crisis.

  • At this early point in the COVID-19 crisis, half (50%) of survey respondents believe that large companies are demonstrating leadership in their actions, while the other half (50%) believe large companies need to do more to step up to prioritize the health, safety, and security of their workforce. 
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that a majority (58%) of younger people aged 18-34 believe companies need to step up their response, a full 10 percentage points higher than those 35 and older – suggesting that younger generations hold large companies to a higher standard of responsible behavior, even in a time of crisis. 
  • This is an opportunity for companies to demonstrate to the public that there is a meaningful role for the private sector in helping society through this public health crisis.

2. Americans want companies to minimize exposure among their employees.

  • We asked respondents to identify what they believe are the three most important steps – out of seven options presented – companies should take to protect the health and safety of their workforce. Most important were that companies:
    • Provide the flexibility to work from home (62%);
    • Provide or extending paid sick leave for at least 14 days (60%); and
    • Update and enforce greater safety and sanitation policies and processes across their operations (50%).
  • For a full breakdown of responses, and options presented, see our methodology here.

3. Americans want companies to maintain healthcare coverage, over financial compensation, in the event of job loss, furloughs, or layoffs.

  • We asked survey participants to identify what they believe are the three most important steps – out of 11 options presented – companies should take to protect the economic security of their workforce. Most important were that companies:
    • Continue access to healthcare benefits, either during furlough or for an amount of time after being laid off (49%);
    • Continue to pay hourly/contract workers during temporary business closures (38%); and
    • Establish emergency funds for workers who have reduced hours (33%).
  • For a full breakdown of responses, and options presented, see our methodology here.

4. Whether or not a company is disproportionately affected by coronavirus, Americans have the same set of expectations for how they should respond.

  • We split survey respondents into two groups and asked them:
    • How they think companies experiencing the most financial distress (like hotels and airlines) should support the healthy, safety, and economic security of their workforces.
    • How they think companies across the board should support the healthy, safety, and economic security of their workforces.
  • Interestingly, there is no significant difference in how people believe companies should respond – regardless of whether they are in financial distress. Both groups of respondents want to see companies prioritize:
    • Working from home, extending sick leave, and workplace sanitation to protect the health and safety of the workforce; and
    • Extending health benefits, extending pay despite closures, and emergency funds to promote employees’ economic security.
  • For a full breakdown of responses, and options presented, see our methodology here

We will be continuing to build upon this survey effort in the coming weeks, reaching out to members of the American public with new questions, and tracking their shifting views on some of the above. We hope this initiative, along with our ongoing efforts to track corporate action in this time, will serve to bring greater clarity and guidance to companies looking to do right by their stakeholders in this time of great uncertainty. 

To download the topline survey results and methodology for the March 24 survey, click here, and stay tuned for our ongoing updates. 

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of JUST Capital from March 23-24, 2020 among 1,043 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Have questions about our research and rankings?  We want to hear from you!