Takeaways: September 2021

27 Sep, 2021



September 2021

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Sixty-five percent of consumers expect CEOs to speak out on social and political issues, even when those issues are not directly related to their company’s business, according to FleishmanHillard’s 2021 Authenticity Gap survey of 10,000 consumers in Brazil, China, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. conducted in March and April. Fully 72% say CEOs should demonstrate their commitment to DEI efforts, and 73% expect them to support and influence environmental policy change. For the companies they lead to stand out from their competitors, 64% say they also need to talk more about their behavior and its social impact. But in the U.S., “19 of 20 industries are falling short of expectations of better value.” Although the security and privacy of personal data are big concerns for consumers, almost half (45%) say they’ll allow companies to collect their personal information if it means more convenience.

WORTH READING: Barber Conable, a Republican member of Congress and later president of the World Bank, was once voted “most respected” by his Capitol Hill colleagues. Conable, who died in 2003, represented his upstate New York district for 20 years, refusing to accept campaign contributions of more than $50, whether from an individual or a PAC. During his time on the Hill, he kept a detailed diary, which has now been edited by Bill Kauffman and published as The Congressional Journal of Barber B. Conable, Jr., 1968-1984, which George Will says “might be the most illuminating politician’s journal since John Quincy Adams’s, which are read today for their vitriol. Conable’s will be read as a window into the era before polarization extinguished civility.”

BLAME GAME: When caught in a lie, politicians can minimize the damage to their reputation by blaming a subordinate. That’s the conclusion of research published in the Journal of Experimental Political Science, which looked at two cases — one a real-life example from the Donald Trump presidency and the other involving a fictional scenario about a mayor in a fictional town. When Trump said he had no authority to end the separation of families at the Mexican border in 2018, which later proved to be untrue, he was severely criticized for making this false claim. But when he leaned on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to justify his policies, “ensnaring her in the falsehood,” the researchers write, “criticism was often directed at Nielsen rather than Trump,” whose reputation among his supporters was unaffected. When Sen. Richard Durbin said “someone in this administration has to accept responsibility” for the policies and the falsehood Trump uttered, Durbin called for Nielsen’s resignation. The fictional mayor lied about funding a school lunch program and blamed the city manager. In both cases, study participants read accounts of the incidents and were asked to evaluate the relative culpability of the actors involved.

In the fictional case, the results were different. The mayor shifted blame to the city manager, but nonetheless paid a “massive 22-point cost in public support.” The difference, the researchers say, is less about Trump than about how well-known an elected official is. The less information citizens have about a leader, the bigger the price that official will pay. “Our research suggests that the more the public focuses on surrogates,” they write, “the easier it is for the executive to avoid blame.” Although the studies “focused on cases of dishonesty, they have implications for politicians going through any negative news cycle. Whether it is an unpopular policy, a scandal, or a reversal from a previously stated position, politicians are incentivized to pretend that the buck stops with anyone but them.”

IT’S OUTRAGEOUS: Expressions of moral outrage on Facebook and Twitter have a greater effect on people of politically moderate leanings than on those with more extreme views. Yale University researchers tracked almost 13 million tweets from more than 7,000 users, discovering that once one of them had posted a scathing denunciation of something somebody else said or did, they were then more likely to post similarly appalled statements. The likes, shares and retweets that follow encourage them to do so, according to the research published in the journal Science Advances. While “members of politically extreme networks expressed more outrage than members of politically moderate networks,” the more moderate ones “were actually more influenced by social rewards,” Yale reports. “Our data show that social media platforms do not merely reflect what is happening in society,” one of the researchers says. “Platforms create incentives that change how users react to political events over time.” These incentives take the form of likes, shares and retweets.

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