Even Corporations Say the 2024 Political Climate Is Terrible

(Bloomberg) -- Increased polarization and norm-shattering events like the felony conviction of Donald Trump make the 2024 elections the most challenging US political environment for companies at any point in recent memory, according to a new report.

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Fifty-nine percent of corporate executives say conditions are worse now than in the 2020 election season, a period marked by the economic damage caused by the global pandemic and major upheavals over race relations, according to the poll by the Conference Board, a nonpartisan think tank, and law firm Steptoe LLP. They surveyed lobbyists and legal officers at 96 major multinational corporations.

Close elections that shift power from one political party to the other could upend laws and regulations, deepening the difficulty for businesses to make long-range plans. And corporations also have to deal with conflicting regulations and mandates issued by Republican and Democratic-led states.

Divided government in Washington and the gridlock that comes with it are also leading companies to beef up their influence in capitals across the country as states are tackling everything from the influence of foreign interests on legislatures to online privacy on their own, said Adie Olson, a partner at Steptoe. Lobbying at the state and local level has increased 43% since 2020, according to the survey.

“The slower the federal government gets in some ways, the faster the states are getting,” Olson said. “The issues that states are dealing with, those can pop up very fast.”

The hyper-partisanship nationwide threatens companies on several fronts. They have to navigate consumer markets fragmented by political and cultural issues. Missteps can be costly, as Anheuser-Busch InBev NV found after its marketing promotion using transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney sparked an outcry and boycott by conservative consumers. The risk of that kind of backlash has led 60% of companies to be more selective in choosing the social and political issues they address, according to the survey.

Extremism and polarization among policymakers was cited as the leading source of political turbulence for businesses across industries by 71% of those surveyed, and the sharply divided electorate came in as second with 60%.

The third biggest source of turbulence came from within. Employees’ scrutiny of the political and social actions of their companies was cited by 48% of executives for creating a challenging environment. Workers increasingly bring their political convictions into the office and expect their employers to take stances on controversial issues. Some employees are dismissive of opposing points of view or reject the legitimacy of decisions that don’t align with their own politics, the survey found.

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