When Donald Trump won the Oval Office, critics worried he would use his elevated stature to enhance his personal power to pick winners and losers by endorsing products. But new consumer survey data from Simmons Research suggest the Trump presidency may be having the opposite effect on the Trump brand.
Respondents were asked three separate questions:
- Would you be more likely to use a product endorsed by President Trump?
- Would you be less likely to use a product endorsed by President Trump?
- Would you actively boycott a product endorsed by President Trump?
Nearly 50 percent of Americans tell Simmons they would be less likely to use a product or service endorsed by Trump. At the same time, 29 percent say they would actively boycott a product or service endorsed by the president. Only 18 percent of respondents say a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to use a product or service.
Those are remarkable numbers. Generally speaking, in early 2017, a presidential endorsement of good or service is more likely to cause a boycott or a slump for that product than to create a bump is usage or sales.
What’s going on? “We know Trump is a very polarizing figure, but these data suggest that the people who don’t like Trump feel much more strongly about it than the people who do like him,” says Steven Millman, chief scientist at Simmons.
Partisanship plays a role, as you might expect. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to take negative action on products or goods that Trump endorses. Independents are somewhere in between.
But look closely at those numbers and you won’t see a lot of good news for the Trump brand.
Self-described Republicans are only slightly more likely to support a product that Trump endorses (31 percent) than they are to avoid it (23 percent). That’s a difference of only 8 points in favor of Trump. Among Democrats the anti-Trump product feelings are much stronger — a 61-point edge toward avoiding Trump-endorsed products.
And Independents look a lot more like Democrats than Republicans. Only 8 percent of them say they would be more likely to use a Trump-endorsed product, while 55 percent say they would avoid such a product. That’s a 47-point edge toward avoiding Trump-backed products.
Of course, products are not neutral things, particularly in 21st century America. Goods and services, like retail chains, have their own consumer bases with their own political dispositions.
There may be some stores or restaurants with a distinctly GOP lean to their base that would benefit from a Trump shout-out. Think of chains like Hobby Lobby or Cracker Barrel, which Simmons data show are patronized by many more Republicans than Democrats.
But there are far more stores where there would likely be no Trump bump, and where his endorsement might have a negative effect — products and chains that have customer bases that are more neutral or that lean Democratic.
“A strong association between Trump and a brand is likely to be damaging to the brand, unless its consumers are strong conservative,” Millman says. We’ll explore those implications more in the coming weeks.
The Simmons data also suggest that businesses with CEO’s who publicly support Trump may be penalized by consumers.
Nearly 34 percent of Americans say they would prefer to not buy products from a business where the CEO supports Trump, while 30 percent say they would pay more to shop at a competitor of a business with a Trump-supporting CEO. Only 22 percent of Americans say they would prefer to buy from a business whose CEO supports Trump.
Those numbers raise a lot of questions. How far would those anti-Trump consumers go to not buy from businesses with Trump-friendly CEOs? After all, saying “you prefer” to do something is different than actively driving a few blocks or a few miles out of the way to actually do it. And, for the consumers who say they would “pay more” at a competitor, how much more?
Regardless of those questions, however, these numbers may reveal something about Trump’s foray into politics and his future.
The president captured the White House with a never-before-seen strategy that leveraged his reality TV star power with social media to remake the 2016 campaign. These data suggest that winning the highest office in the land has damaged the very brand that put Trump there.