Business Gets Political

Gone are the days when businesses tried to keep personal politics out of the boardroom. Customer-based alienation resulting from a mishmash of political ideologies is no longer a concern. In today’s contentious political environment, businesses are throwing in their own two cents (if not more) to openly align with political parties.

In fact, a glaring line seems to have been drawn between the left and right leaning businesses in the US. Companies like Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and pretty much any oil company and airline are proponents of big business and serve as proud representatives of the GOP. They openly embrace conservative principals and, as a result, enjoy popularity among conservative consumers. On the other side, contemporary companies like Apple, Starbucks, and the three biggest search engines, Google, Yahoo, and MSN, lean left and open their arms to liberal ideas like green technology and change. Their customers tend to be skeptics of big business, so these companies’ rebelliousness helps fuel popularity among those who rebel against the status quo.

While the idea that opposites attract unquestionably applies to science, it’s difficult to find proof of the theory in business. The CEO tends to drive the political affiliation of a company through political activity and donations. The Board of Directors, who often hold similar ideas, adds little political diversity at the top. Moreover, certain companies are naturally drawn to particular ideological beliefs. Cabela’s, a hunting and fishing retailer, naturally espouses protection of the Second Amendment. Newsweb Coroporation, an alternative and minority-issue publisher, identifies with more liberal beliefs and ideas. Some CEOs are more public in their political leanings than others. While most quietly write checks, others are the face of their respective political party. The Koch brothers, heads of Koch Industries based in Wichita, Kansas, have angered teachers across the country through the funding of the political organizations Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute. Their funding helped win the battle over teacher rights in Wisconsin.

Surprisingly, a business’s open political affiliation does little to sway consumer spending. There are pockets of consumers who boycott businesses based on political beliefs. Some Democrats, for instance, refuse to shop at Wal-Mart because of the corporation’s anti-union policies. Some Republicans traded in their Chevrolet automobiles in favor of Ford, the one auto company that didn’t accept a government bailout. Yet consumers recognize that they can’t necessarily afford to shop based solely on political beliefs- a low price is a low price- while most businesses recognize that they can’t afford to offend consumers.

Politics may be ugly, but that doesn’t stop businesses from wading into the fray. Still, most recognize the need to play nice in order to maintain the bottom line.