Nov 27, 2019 - Politics & Policy

The 2020 corporate hit list

Data: High Lantern Group; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: High Lantern Group; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Presidential candidates have called out more than 80 companies across 30 industries on Twitter over the past six months — mostly in a negative context — according to data compiled by High Lantern Group and provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: From Amazon to Lyft, many of these companies are facing populist attacks from candidates including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the left — but also from the right by President Trump, who's lashing out over his own issues.

  • The candidates are getting the most online engagement when they target corporations for paying little or no taxes, according to the data from High Lantern Group, an analytics firm focused on corporate reputation.
  • The companies are facing increased pressure to comply with Democratic candidates' visions for the future: offering employees a living wage, paying more in taxes, and allowing workers to unionize.
  • Trump's complaints tend to focus on tech, communications and social media companies. Sometimes, the president elevates conservatives' allegations that their messages are getting repressed or censored. Sometimes, Trump is venting that companies whose empires include credible, mainstream news organizations are engaged in peddling "fake news."

The big picture: Candidates have criticized corporations before, but those facing attacks today differ from those targeted in 2016, when Wall Street was the No. 1 target.

  • No banks crack the Top 10 of companies facing criticism on Twitter from the 2020 field of presidential hopefuls.
  • Amazon, Facebook, McDonald's and Walmart have been called out the most.

Presidential candidates have spent months taking shots at big companies on the campaign trail, and we've been watching this play out since last summer.

  • Several 2020 Democrats marched with McDonald's workers joining in their strike of sexual harassment in the workplace and wages.

"We’ve noticed companies really pay attention to when they or their competitors are called out from huge players," said Matt Levy, director of issue analysis at HLG.

  • Unlike many other companies, Amazon has hit back at candidates who've called them out and threatened to break up Big Tech if they become president.
  • In a statement to Axios, Walmart urged candidates to engage with the company to learn more about its practices and initiatives before "recycling critiques that haven’t been relevant for years," adding, "From our investments in wages and training to our work on environmental sustainability, some candidates have a lot to learn about who we are today.”

Between the lines: Perhaps more surprising than the finding that Sanders and Warren have led the pack is that Trump is the next most-likely 2020 candidate to publicly criticize companies on Twitter.

  • Twitter is itself among the top companies called out by candidates - No. 8.

Trump's lines of attack aren't usually about a living wage or workplace safety.

  • Instead, he goes after companies like Amazon, whose owner Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, or CNN's parent company, AT&T, when he is angered by critical news coverage of his presidency or administration.
  • He also blasts tech companies over free speech/censorship allegations.
  • When his company mentions are positive — for beneficiaries including Hyundai, Apple, and American Airlines — the praise tends to focus on job creation.
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