As if you don’t have enough to think about while trying to lead your business to success, or today perhaps even survival, now you have a new area of concern. Should your business weigh in on controversial political issues? How do you respond to pressure from employees, customers, or activists? If you are going to weigh in, how should you choose to use your influence?
If you’ve been off the planet recently you may have missed the controversy over new election rules in Georgia. As soon as the rules were signed into law, critics started shouting “voter suppression” and “Jim Crow.” President Biden even called it “Jim Eagle,” a new level of suppression.
Major League Baseball sprang into action, quickly announcing that the All Star game would be moved from Atlanta to Denver, giving Georgia a strong, public smackdown. The CEOs of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines piled on, condemning the legislature and governor of their home state.
Then a funny thing happened. A few people started reading the new Georgia rules and comparing them to rules in other states. They began looking at census data on voting by state in the 2020 election. They began analyzing the impact of moving the All Star game.
It turns out that Georgia’s rules are similar to rules in many other states regarding early voting, absentee voting and voter ID. It turns out that the Georgia voter ID requirement for mail-in votes, supposedly a nefarious tool of suppression, actually allows the use of a driver’s license number, free state-provided ID number, last four digits of your Social Security number, or a copy of other documents like utility bills to prove it’s really you.
It also turns out that in the 2020 election, Georgia had 64% of its Black population vote, compared to 53.1% in Colorado. Georgia also had a higher percentage of Black participation than liberal New York and Massachusetts. And the reasons both Black and White voters gave for not voting when surveyed by the Census Bureau were virtually the same with the top four being forgotten, not interested, too busy and didn’t like the candidates.
The CEO’s had hardly finished patting themselves on the back when analysis started coming in on the collateral damage of their actions. Atlanta, a city with a 51% Black population, will lose about $100 million in All Star game revenue, which will now go to 91% White Denver. That’s some smackdown. Rasmussen reports that 37% of adults are now less likely to use Coca-Cola products. Delta faces a boycott.
There is a lesson here about facts and opinions. Many people today get their “facts” and opinions from secondary sources, including traditional media, social media, activist groups, friends, and co-workers. When this controversy arose, how many people read the law and compared it to laws in other states? How many people looked at readily available data about voting patterns and trends and the reasons people give for not voting?
The answer, sadly, is darn few. And it’s hard to believe that the CEOs of Coca-Cola and Delta and the Commissioner of Baseball spent quality time researching this issue. It appears they all reacted to a noisy narrative and decided there was moral high ground to be had without taking the time to get the facts. The result may be damaging to their brands, and to the people of Georgia they claimed to be supporting.
I’m not suggesting one way or the other how politically active your business should be. I am suggesting that you research and react to facts, not to pressure.
Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County, Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.