Companies from Silicon Valley to Wall Street have publicly denounced racism since the protests following the killing of George Floyd. But Americans are divided on whether it’s important for firms to weigh in on political and social issues. And they are more likely to believe pressure from others – more than genuine concern for Black people – has driven recent statements about race, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Americans divided on if it's important for companies to make public statements about political or social issues, but views vary by party, race and ethnicity

Overall, 52% of U.S. adults say it is very or somewhat important that companies and organizations make public statements about political or social issues, while a similar share (48%) say this is not too or not at all important, according to the July 13-19 survey.

Americans’ views vary substantially by race and ethnicity. While most Black (75%), Asian (70%) and Hispanic adults (66%) say it is at least somewhat important that companies and organizations release statements about political or social issues, this share falls to 42% among white adults.

Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand Americans’ attitudes and views about companies’ role in discussing political and social issues. For this analysis, we surveyed 10,211 U.S. adults from July 13 to 19, 2020. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

This survey includes a total sample size of 298 Asian Americans. The sample includes English-speaking Asian Americans only and, therefore, may not be representative of the overall Asian American population (75% of our weighted Asian American sample was born in another country, compared with 77% of the Asian American adult population overall). Despite this limitation, it is important to report the views of Asian Americans on the topics in this study. As always, Asian Americans’ responses are incorporated into the general population figures throughout this report. Because of the relatively small sample size and a reduction in precision due to weighting, we are not able to analyze Asian American respondents by demographic categories, such as gender, age or education.

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

There are also stark partisan differences on these questions. Some 71% of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party say it is very or somewhat important for companies to make public statements about political or social issues, compared with 31% of Republicans and Republican leaners. Conversely, 69% of Republicans believe it is at most not too important for firms to make these kinds of statements, including about four-in-ten (42%) saying this is not important at all for companies to do. Among Democrats, these shares drop to 29% and 10%, respectively.

Still, there are some racial differences among Democrats on how much importance they place on this. For example, Black Democrats are more likely than white Democrats to say it is very important for companies and organizations to make public statements about political or social issues (40% vs. 22%).

Even as Americans hold mixed views about the importance of such statements, they have become fairly common following the global protests that erupted in response to the killing of Floyd in police custody on Memorial Day. This survey finds that a vast majority of adults (80%) say they have seen or heard companies and organizations making public statements about race or racial inequality in the past few months, with majorities across racial and ethnic groups and political parties saying this.

While some businesses have been praised for speaking out about racial inequality, critics have questioned the timing and sincerity of these messages. At the same time, many brands have been called out for their own track records related to diversity and inclusion.

This survey finds that people who have come across brands releasing statements about race are more likely to attribute those pronouncements to companies feeling pressured to do so than a genuine concern about the plight of Black people.

Across racial, ethnic groups, more see pressure rather than genuine concern as contributing a great deal to companies' statements about race

Among those who have seen or heard public statements about race or racial inequality in the past few months, 69% say pressure from others to address this issue has contributed a great deal to recent public statements about race or racial inequality, while a much smaller share (19%) believes genuine concerns about the treatment of Black people in the country have been a major contributing factor to companies speaking out about race during this time.

Majorities across racial and ethnic groups think pressure from others has contributed a great deal to these statements. But white adults who have come across recent statements from firms about race or racial inequality are more likely to express this sentiment – with 73% saying this compared with about six-in-ten of the same group of Black, Hispanic or Asian adults. On the other hand, Hispanic (31%) and Black (30%) Americans are about twice as likely as Asian (16%) or white Americans (14%) to believe genuine concerns for Black people motivated companies a great deal to make statements about race or racial inequality.

There are also some partisan differences in assessing companies’ motivations for speaking out about race. Among those who have come across firms publicly addressing race-related issues, 75% of Republicans believe pressure from others to address the issue factored into companies’ decisions a great deal, compared with 65% of Democrats. And though relatively small shares across parties say genuine concern has contributed a great deal to statements they’ve seen or heard, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say this (22% vs. 14%).

Views about the sincerity of these statements are also tied to the level of importance the public places on brands speaking out about issues. For example, 26% of those who say it is at least somewhat important for companies to make public statements about social or political issues think that genuine concern for Black people contributed a great deal to recent statements they’ve seen about race or racial inequality. Just 11% of those who say such statements are not too or not at all important say the same.

Those who deem these politically minded declarations important are less likely than those who don’t to think pressure from others largely contributed to recent statements about race. Still, majorities across both groups feel that pressure from others is a key factor driving such statements they’ve come across (65% vs. 74%, respectively).

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Monica Anderson  is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.
Colleen McClain  is a research associate focusing on internet and technology research at Pew Research Center.