by Chris Shugart
I was recently reminded of an amusing scene from one of my favorite movies, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Independent businessman and river ferry operator Sim Carstairs expresses his knack for homespun marketing in post-Civil War Missouri when he explains, “You know in my line of work, you gotta be able either to sing “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” or “Dixie” with equal enthusiasm…dependin’ upon present company.” The Carpetbagger to whom he’s talking agrees: “Can’t say as I blame you for that. Only good business to play it safe.”
In the wake of the recent midterm elections, I had the chance to reflect on how politics and business are intertwined with consequences that go beyond the scope of Washington bureaucrats. For better or worse, economic policies, coming from the federal and state level, will always affect the business professional. Wall Street recognizes this well, yet I find that professional people on an individual level tend to back off from political discussions on subjects that are likely determining how they operate their business.
The reason is understandable, if not obvious. The moment you engage in any kind of political dialogue, you’re bound to run into some disagreement and opposition. By expressing your opinion, you lay yourself open to alienating customers, colleagues, and your own staff. Conventional wisdom tells us that every political issue is a potential can of worms best left unopened.
Although politics may be a taboo subject in the workplace, the current political climate is an undeniable reality that every astute business person should be able to analyze in complete objectivity, free from bias and PR spin. Voters are also potential customers. Understanding how and why they vote can be just as important as any other demographic.
Don’t assume that what works for political pundits and media commentators can also work for you. They don’t get paid for being accurate. They get paid for attracting listeners, viewers and readers. Your marketing strategy depends first and foremost on accurate data. Be skeptical of polls. Unless you’ve conducted the poll yourself, you really have no idea if it’s valid. . If you’re going to compile usable data based on political demographics, do your own research and draw your own conclusions. Taking the word of media talking heads and news editors is more than risky—it’s foolhardy.