UI research finds employees less likely to work with politically-opposed companies

New research from the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business shows prospective employees’ political beliefs factor into their job applications, including a reluctance to work with companies who have different political opinions from thier own.



Ryan Hansen, News Reporter

Prospective employees are much less likely to apply to work at businesses with public political views in opposition to their own, according to research co-authored by a professor from the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business.

The research revealed that individuals seeking a job could identify an organization’s political affiliations and consider how those views align with their own when applying to work at a particular organization. 

Prospective employees whose political views did not align with the organization were less likely to want to work with that company, this research found.

Chad Van Iddekinge, UI professor of management and entrepreneurship and co-investigator on the study, said researchers were looking to establish a possible link between the politics of an organization and applicants’ feelings toward that company with the four studies they conducted.

“In recent years, organizations have become more active in the political sphere,” Van Iddekinge said. “But we don’t really have a lot of information [and] research on how that might affect people who are looking for jobs.”

Van Iddekinge said political activity includes donations to political parties and campaigns, as well as addressing support or disdain for a particular social issue, such as immigration policy. 

The first study, which surveyed people looking for a job, sought to understand whether they had been previously influenced toward or away from applying to a particular company because of their views. The survey revealed that one-third of participants reported being discouraged from applying to a company because of differing political views, Van Iddekinge said. 

The second study found that most of those surveyed were able to correctly identify the political stances of particular companies.

“We gave the participants a list of six companies that are known to be supportive of either more Democratic party candidates and views or more Republican and conservative views,” Van Iddekinge said.

The more liberal companies included Apple, Facebook, and Google, Van Iddekinge said, while those identified with more conservative views were Home Depot, State Farm Insurance, and Exxon Mobil. 

The designations were based on public information related to contributions to political candidates and parties, Van Iddekinge said. The other two studies examined whether the similarity or dissimilarity between those seeking jobs and the political party or issue with which the organization affiliates would affect their intentions to apply to the organization.

“Here [in the third and fourth studies], we put people in a scenario where we had them view a website that we developed that was based on real company websites that we looked at,” Van Iddekinge said. “We tried to mimic what job seekers would look at.”

The example websites provided information that demonstrated support for a particular political party or candidate through donations or used rhetoric to support or disapprove of a particular issue, such as immigration or gun control.

In general, participants were more influenced by a company’s stances on a political issue than they were about its political donations.

“We found that people were more attracted to organizations whose political views matched their own political views,” Van Iddekinge said. “They were less attracted to a company if its political views were different from their own.”

Philip Roth, professor in the department of management at Clemson University and lead author of the research, said the studies are the first of their kind on this topic. 

As businesses have become more politically involved, he said they’ve tried to portray it as something positive that furthers the company’s interests, but this research shows that isn’t always true.

“We’ve gathered data over four different studies that suggests political affiliation is a two-edged sword,” Roth said. “It can attract some people, but it can also turn off others.”

There are two factors in how prospective employees feel about a potential employer’s political beliefs, one being political polarization, he said. 

“Political polarization in the United States is really, really strong,” he said. “I think that polarization washes into organizations.”

The other is the relationship between politics and values, attitudes, and beliefs, Roth said.

“If an organization gives lots of money to one party and you’re of the opposite party, you may see that organization as not fitting with your values, attitudes, and beliefs, which are often strongly held,” Roth said.

The studies conducted experiments with business students who were about to graduate, students in a Master of Business Administration program, and a broad sample of U.S. workers, Roth said.

He said prominent CEOs have increasingly taken positions on political issues over the last decade, with the belief it will benefit their organization in some way, and he doesn’t see this trend going away any time soon.

“I think we’re going to see more of this trend as we see more organizations continuing to get involved with parties and advocating particular issues,” Roth said. “I think this corporate advocacy is probably likely to ramp up rather than ramp down.”