An October 2018 survey by the Stanford Rock Center for Corporate Governance sought to understand individuals’ view CEOs who take public positions on environmental, social, and political issues. The authors of the survey are David F. Larcker, the James Irvin Miller Professor of Accounting at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Brian Tayan, a member of the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
The authors found that:
- The public is highly divided about CEOs who take vocal positions on social, environmental, or political issues.
- The cost of CEO activism might be higher than many CEOs, companies, or boards realize.
- People are much more likely to think of products they have stopped using than products they have started using because of a position the CEO took on a public issue.
- When consumers don’t like what they hear, they react the best way they know how to: by closing their wallets.
Key Survey findings include:
- The public viewpoint of CEO activism is highly mixed, with opinions varying by age and political affiliation.
- The public is positive on environmental issues, negative on politics and contentious on social issues.
- Americans are most likely to recall prominent CEOs speaking up about issues they agree – and disagree – with.
- 65% of all survey respondents thought CEOs of large companies should use their position and potential influence to advocate on behalf of social, environmental, or political issues that they care about personally.
- By age group, 71% Millennials agreed with such action, while only 63% of Gen X and 46% of Baby Boomers agreed.
- Perhaps not too surprisingly, the survey found that Democrats viewed CEO activism more favorably than Independents or Republicans.
The survey report includes more detailed demographic information and breakouts of various questions by age, political affiliation, gender, region, race, and household income.