November 2, 2020
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Consumers are more willing to embrace corporate efforts to bridge political divides where trust in business is high

According to a recent survey from The Dialogue Project, businesses have a larger influence on stemming polarization than they may think.

“Topics like polarization and disinformation are under addressed by companies, but that’s how to make a real difference," says Tina McCorkindale, President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, and a primary researcher on The Dialogue Project's recent survey.

From the dinner table to the polling place, many Americans are divided on the issues and often struggle to talk about their differences. This isn’t just a hunch. Research shows that polarization in the U.S. has risen over the last few decades.  But what do people feel is the solution to closing this division?

For many people, they’re willing to put their trust in corporations to help solve the problem. Specifically, 66 percent of Americans are willing to embrace efforts by companies to help them find common ground. That’s according to The Dialogue Project, which conducted a survey this summer find out how people in countries around the world felt about polarization, and what solutions they would consider.

Americans aren’t alone in this positive assessment of the power of business. Roughly 80 percent of survey respondents from India and Brazil were also ready to embrace efforts by companies to help people find common ground. Europeans were a little more skeptical, with 61 percent of the U.K. respondents ready to embrace corporate efforts to reduce polarization and just 52 percent of Germans.

These numbers coincide with those countries’ rates of trust in business as seen in the Edelman Trust Barometer.

“People are trusting businesses to do the right thing probably at a time when the government is not,” said Dr. Tina McCorkindale, President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, and a primary researcher on The Dialogue Project survey. “If we look at the U.S., we see the polarization and the sowing of division by the government. Regardless of what side you’re on, it would make sense to me that maybe people do think that businesses are the solution.”

But how effective would business efforts to reduce polarization be? Especially when only half of all survey respondents said that they would be willing to listen to the opinions of people they don’t agree with.

“I think the Better Arguments Project is one way to do that. It’s not about forcing people to listen to people who disagree with them. I think it’s about how you train people to have better conversations and listen better,” McCorkindale said. The Better Arguments Project is a collaboration between the Aspen Institute, the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, and Allstate. It works to teach Americans how to have more effective, healthier arguments.

But the Better Arguments Project is only one potential piece of the solution. McCorkindale believes that there’s a ripe opportunity for businesses to start offering solutions.

“I think this is a great opportunity for companies to drive these efforts and be proactive about it,” said McCorkindale. “Topics like polarization and disinformation are under addressed by companies, but that’s how to make a real difference. It also benefits your workplace and the teamwork that you have within an organization, aside just from people being able to find common ground.”

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project.