Conceptualizing the relationship between corporate social advocacy and political polarization

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Corporations are now taking stands on contemporary and controversial social issues that share no obvious connection to the corporations’ business practices. At the same time, political polarization continues to intensify, which begs the question: Are these corporate stands – referred to as corporate social advocacy (CSA) – and political polarization related to each other, and if so, how? The purpose of this study is to provide a conceptualization of the connections between CSA and political polarization through a series of propositions that can be tested in subsequent research studies. Corporations have influence in society, and the ways in which they communicate on controversial social issues could further intensify or help assuage political polarization. Conversely, political polarization may be causing CSA in the first place, which would put into question the legitimacy and desirability of CSA because of the environment from which CSA is cultivated. Design/methodology/approach: This study is designed to be conceptual, and the approach is based on theory building. Findings: The study conceptualizes the relationship between CSA and political polarization to be symbiotic because both are bidirectional causes of each other. Engagement in CSA is also argued to be positively associated with perceptions that corporations contain particular political ideologies, i.e. more “liberal-leaning” or “conservative-leaning.” This study also predicts that – dependent on particular conditions – CSA will also lead to an increase in both boycotts and skepticism. Practical implications: This study will contribute to scholars’, practitioners’ and consumers’ understanding of the causes and effects of CSA. The way in which political polarization is potentially causing CSA puts into question the legitimacy of corporations engaging in CSA in the first place. If CSA is cultivated in the soil of political polarization, is CSA desirable for corporations? Conversely, the way in which CSA is potentially causing political polarization also puts the legitimacy of CSA into question. If CSA is causing political polarization, is CSA desirable for society? Social implications: Corporations are an influential part of society, and thus will influence how society views controversial social issues. If the predictions in this study hold, corporations will play an important role in either intensifying or reducing political polarization, and political polarization will also play an important role in how corporations communicate about CSA issues. Originality/value: Research focused on CSA is burgeoning, yet limited studies have examined how CSA and political polarization interact. Although there could be positive aspects of corporate involvement in CSA, this study examines some of the potential negative aspects of corporate involvement in CSA. Future research will also be able to test the propositions proposed in this study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)893-904
Number of pages12
JournalCorporate Communications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 23 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Industrial relations
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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