In today’s tough economy, it’s easy to assume that money takes precedence over brand values. While CivicScience data has shown a drop in concern over ‘company social consciousness’ in the last two years, consumers certainly aren’t purchasing exclusively with their wallets. Data indicate that U.S. consumers still care about a brand’s values – including its stance on social and political issues.
Yet, concern about brand values varies significantly across the vast U.S. population. Past CivicScience studies have shown that certain consumers are more likely than others to place importance on a brand’s values, including women and Black Americans.
What about political identity? In today’s heated social and political climate, brands need to understand how a person’s political leanings fit into their consumer behavior. Looking at CivicScience’s ongoing tracking of opinions about brand values through the lens of political identity surfaces key differences – as well as similarities – among U.S. consumers.
Importance of ‘Social Consciousness’ Varies
When it comes to a brand’s overall ‘social consciousness,’ Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to say that it is an important factor when deciding where to shop and what to buy. A strong majority of Democrat-leaning consumers (87%) are likely to consider aspects of a brand such as sustainability or stance on social issues. Republicans are less likely to feel this is important, with 59% saying it is ‘somewhat important,’ while Independents/Other fall in the middle (69%).
Several nuances exist, however, when further broken down by demographics. For example, Republicans who earn $50K or less per year are more likely to think a company’s social consciousness is important compared to higher-earning Republicans.
Responding to Brands on Social Issues
Getting more granular, CivicScience regularly tracks data on how consumers feel about brands taking a stand on social issues in particular. Aligning with social issues and causes has been at the forefront in recent years. For example, many brands commemorate Pride Month through advertising and products (although LGBTQ+ consumers are increasingly less supportive of this). In recent news, legacy brand Bud Light recently entered this territory by partnering with transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney. The PR campaign attempted to capture new audiences but led to backlash from both right and left, for different reasons.
Data from May show that a slim majority of U.S. consumers (56%) feel that brands should avoid aligning with social issues, while 16% think they should take a stance (and 28% hold no opinion on the topic). Year over year, tracking shows the percentage of consumers who think brands should take a stand on issues has declined (from 21% in 2020).
Personal politics certainly play a significant role in opinion. Republican consumers are overwhelmingly more likely than both Independents and Democrats to say that brands should not take a stand on social issues.
Looking solely at those who hold an opinion on the matter (excluding those who answered ‘no opinion’), 93% of Republicans think brands should stay away from social issues, compared to 55% of Democrats. In contrast, 45% of Democrats with an opinion feel that brands should align with social issues, compared to just 7% of Republicans and 22% of Independents/Other.
Sentiments among Republicans have largely remained the same over the years, whereas Democrats have varied significantly. February marked a turning point for Democrats who agree brands should avoid social issues, after increasing in 2022 – this percentage fell seven points this year (from 62% in February to 55% in May), while those who say the opposite rose in tandem.
How are consumers likely to react to a brand that identifies with certain social issues, causes, or values?
A majority of the general population agrees they would boycott brands that support causes they are against (54%) and switch to brands that share their personal values (52%). Ironically, even if many consumers don’t agree that brands should align with social issues, they are still very likely to prefer brands that share their opinions and values.
Rebased exclusively by people with an opinion on these issues, data show similarities across party lines, with some variation. Republicans are the most likely to boycott a brand while Independents are the least likely. Republicans and Democrats are also both equally likely to agree they would switch to brands that share their values, more so than Independents.
Ultimately, Americans across all party lines are inclined to purchase from companies and brands that resonate with certain values they hold. The data suggest that for Democrats, social consciousness is much more important, including that a brand takes a stand on social issues. Republican consumers are more likely to feel brands should avoid public stances on social issues, but are still likely to decide for or against purchasing a brand based on their opinions and values.
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