Corporate Perceptions and Political Party
“What bumper stickers are on your car?”
It has long been a favorite question asked by lawyers to prospective jurors during voir dire and on jury questionnaires in hopes of determining which political party they embrace. In a civil case, conventional thinking has been that Democrats tend to harbor more anti-corporate sentiment than their Republican counterparts. Up until very recently, knowing a potential juror’s political affiliation offered insights into a range of corresponding attitudes about large corporations. This wisdom has eroded over time, as recent studies have shown that anti-company sentiment is equally common among respondents of both major political parties. A sizeable block within the current Republican party gravitates toward populist messages that corporate America and the coastal elites in charge of companies have left them behind.
Trial Methods has recently noticed a similar trend of these political party distinctions becoming blurred, with Democrats continuing to express wariness of the role of large companies and Republicans now also showing what seems to be an equal extent of skepticism. Gone are the days when civil defendants could be content selecting a panel with a handful of Republicans, happy to strike Democrats and their preconceptions that large companies are a cause of societal ills. Our assessments of data during the second half of 2023 show that Republicans are more pro-company when given the chance to punish a company for unethical but legal conduct (less willing to do so). But overall, the fundamental differences in perceptions of corporations between Republicans and Democrats are not nearly as significant as they once were.
For some examples, similar majorities of both Democrats and Republicans felt that if a corporation does not settle a lawsuit prior to trial there must be some merit to the claims. In a similar vein, there was no statistical difference between Democrats and Republicans when asked whose version of events they would be more likely to believe in a lawsuit, an individual plaintiff’s or a corporation’s. The bad news for companies is that when forced to choose, an overwhelming majority of all prospective jurors said they would tend to believe the individual’s version of the events compared to the corporation’s perspective.
Knowing a potential juror’s political affiliation can help provide a seminal piece of the larger puzzle, but deeper inquiries and additional analyses are required for a more comprehensive and meaningful understanding of how a particular juror will assess the key facts of a case. Historical approaches for jury selection purely based on party politics can no longer be relied on.