Strategic CEO Activism in Polarized Markets
Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis ISSN: 0022-1090 (Print) | 1756-6916 (Online)
70 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2020 Last revised: 14 Nov 2023
Date Written: June 1, 2020
CEOs are increasingly making public statements on contentious social issues. In this paper, we examine what motivates CEOs to engage in social activism. We show that CEO social activism is a strategic choice and not necessarily an expression of the CEO’s own political views. Republican-donor CEOs are three-times more likely to make social statements with a liberal-slant. They are also more likely to make social statements when their firm’s operating environment is politically polarized, and when their employees are Democrat-leaning. Such statements are associated with a 3% increase in consumer visits to a firm's stores in Democrat counties without significantly reducing them in Republican counties. CEO activism is also associated with a 0.12% gain in firm value, increased quarterly sales turnover, and a reduced likelihood of shareholder activism on social issues. Our results suggest that corporate actions that appear to be stakeholder-driven can be motivated by economic concerns.
Keywords: CEO Activism, Political Contributions, Corporate Strategy, Firm Value, Strategic Extremism
JEL Classification: D21, D82, G32, L21
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation