More Consumers Expect CEOs to Take A Stand on Issues. Which Ones are Most Important?

November 22, 2022

This article is included in these additional categories:

Brand-Related | CSR & Environmental | Customer-Centric | Privacy & Security

More than 1 in 4 US adults believe that CEOs should communicate their position on or get involved in political, social and/or cultural issues, according to a report [download page] from Morning Consult. A further 42% feel instead that CEOs should only make statements about or get involved in political, social and/or cultural issues directly related to their business.

Both figures represent a step up from last year, when they stood at 24% and 36%, respectively. That leaves just 31% in this latest survey (down from 40% last year) feeling that CEOs should focus on running their business and not get involved in political, social and/or cultural issues.

How adults feel about this appears to be strongly correlated to their age. While 40% of Gen Z adults feel that CEOs should speak out on these issues in general, that drops to 32% of Millennials, 26% of Gen Xers, and 20% of Baby Boomers.

Notwithstanding their feelings about whether or not CEOs should make their voices heard, there are some issues that consumers would prefer to hear from CEOs about than others. Presented with a list and asked which area is most important for CEOs to speak out or take action on, a leading 17% said taking care of their employees. This aligns with research from last year in which consumers said that knowing a company treats its employees well is their most influential brand activism attribute.

Close behind, 15% share of respondents feel that the most important area for CEOs to speak out or take action on is the economy and the job market. There was then a fairly sizable drop off to the next tier of areas: diversity, equity and inclusion (10% share); climate change (9%); and giving back to communities (9%).

Meanwhile, when it comes to who or what to focus on, a leading 48% share of respondents said that CEOs should prioritize the interests and well-being of their company’s employees. By comparison, one-third (33% share) said CEOs should prioritize their company’s customers, while just 8% said the company’s shareholders. Adults have consistently felt that CEOs should focus more on employees and customers than shareholders.

Finally, an analysis of attitudes towards 55 high-profile corporate leaders reveals a large gap between what respondents feel these leaders (such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos) should be doing and what they are doing. For example, twice as many feel they should respect customers’ privacy (90%) than feel they are actually doing that (44%). The same gap was observed when respondents were asked about these CEOs leading with honesty and integrity.

While fewer than two-thirds (65%) of adults said that CEOs should have values that align with their own, only 4 in 10 said they actually do.

About the Data: The results are based on a September survey of 4,410 US adults (18+).

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