Research in Progress: Antecedents and outcomes of corporate political advocacy among consumers

September 13, 2019

Linda Hon and Leping You

By Linda Hon and Leping You, University of Florida

In 2013, 278 companies filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court expressing their opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Beyond the U.S. context, Google’s gay marriage campaign ‘‘Legalize Love’’ is particularly remarkable by targeting not only legislation in its home country, but also in host nations such as Singapore and Poland where such efforts so far have been unsuccessful or absent. Initiatives such as these are called corporate political advocacy (CPA) whereby a company advocates for political issues to show or voice explicit and public support for individuals, groups, or ideas and values with the aim of persuading others to do the same.

In comparison to other forms of social/political advocacy for which the aim is to increase consumers’ purchase intentions or to advance relational goals, the primary concern of CPA is social change through advocacy for political and social justice causes unrelated to a company’s core business mission.

In CPA, the goal of corporations in taking a public stance on political issues is to disrupt the status quo and argue for societal change. However, doing so may alienate consumers and other stakeholders such as investors and employees who hold differing political views.

CPA has received increasing attention from U.S. consumers. The Global Strategy Group released an annual business and politics report stating that around 81 percent of people in the United States are confident that corporations are capable of influencing social change, and 77 percent expect companies to take action to address political issues. However, an important question that our research seeks to answer is how consumers react to a company’s CPA based on their perception of the company’s motive.

We believe that consumers’ reactions to CPA are expressions of their political ideology. So, our study explores several factors that might affect whether consumers will support or oppose a company’s CPA. To examine consumers’ behaviors related to CPA, we develop an original scale of consumer digital engagement (CDE) for CPA, which we term CDE-CPA, ranging from low to high effort.

We also measure offline political consumerism, which consists of boycotting and “buycotting.” As consumers become more socially and politically conscious, they are prone to use their wallets to vote for political causes that corporations stand for.

Consumers can vote with their dollars in favor of a CPA stance that is consistent with their own political ideology or refuse to buy products or services because they want to punish a corporation for holding a political ideology with which they disagree.

We propose that consumers are more likely to have positive attitudes toward and engage in supportive online and offline behaviors related to a company’s CPA when:

  1. They believe there is low fit between the political issue and the business operations of the company
  2. The issue is highly polarized
  3. There is congruence between the political stance of the CPA and their values
  4. The issue is highly relevant to them.

In addition, these relationships are dependent upon whether they believe the company is acting in the public interest rather than self-interest.    

Our research will add to the growing interest in CPA among public relations scholars and practitioners. Examining the drivers that lead consumers to support or oppose a company’s CPA through online and offline activities allows public relations theory and practice to better explain and predict the antecedents and outcomes of CPA.

For further information on this study, please email Linda Hon at or Leping You at Results from the study will be available next year. This project is supported by a Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center