Guns and Corporate America: What are the business implications of Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods taking a stand on public policy?

Insight Into Consumer Reaction

Here at 20|20, we’re media junkies and research geeks, so we love gaining insight on buzzworthy happenings. Periodically we run quick-turn studies using our nationwide panel to get a pulse on current events, news, and hot topics and gauge consumer reaction.

Recently, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods,  and Kroger, among other companies announced steps to enforce stricter gun-related policies in their stores. These policy changes come in response to school gun violence, most recently, the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Under federal law, a person must be at least 21 to buy a handgun from a firearms dealer. But 18-year-olds can buy semiautomatic rifles and other firearms. Recently, however, companies like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods have taken matters into their own hands.

Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and others announced that they will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21 and are banning the sale of all assault-style rifles in their stores. By announcing these new policies, companies like Walmart and Dick’s have entered into a larger national conversation about gun control.

Do Americans think companies should have a responsibility in shaping public policy? What are the business implications for companies like Walmart and Dick’s? We asked 1,000 Americans from our nationwide panel to weigh in.

Support for Walmart’s decision

In an online survey of 1,000 Americans, fully 84% support Walmart’s decision not to sell guns to anyone under 21 years of age, with 68% who “strongly support” the decision, according to a 20|20 poll conducted March 5-8.

  • Support for Walmart is consistent across lines of gender, age, education and region. However, women outpaced men in their support for Walmart’s decision by 10 points (79% and 89% support, respectively).
  • Support for Walmart’s policy also increases with age – millennials (81%), Gen X (83%), and those ages 55+ (85%).
  • Support for this decision also is strong among lines of political ideology with 95% of liberals supporting this policy, moderates/other (86%), and fully 69% of conservatives.

Walmart also announced that it would no longer sell items resembling assault-style rifles, including toys and air guns. Though it is not as popular as the policy on guns to those under 21, the public once again showed resounding support (74%) for this policy (24% “oppose,” 2% “unsure”).

Companies’ role in policy

When asked whether it is appropriate or inappropriate for companies like Walmart or Dick’s to make gun-related policy decisions, 8 in 10 Americans said “appropriate.” This sentiment is strongest among women (85%), millennial women (87%), those with a Bachelor’s degree or above (84%), and those living in the Northeast (85%).

Although opinions are a bit more divided when it comes to the responsibility the private sector should have on influencing gun-related policy, the majority favor a “great deal” and “good deal” of responsibility.

 

Business implications

Finally, when we asked respondents about their likelihood to do business with a company that made similar gun-related policy decisions, the response is positive overall for the Walmarts, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Krogers of the world.

It is important to note that of the 10% of Americans who are “much less likely” to do business with the company, 16% are men 35-54 and 20% are conservatives.

So what?

It will become increasingly important in our current political climate for companies, like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods to understand public opinion and act proactively. Our findings present a public that seeks corporate America to be involved in national policy conversations. The majority of Americans, overall, are also more likely to do business with companies, like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, who take a seat at the policy table. It will be critical for companies to delve deep into the public opinion of potential and current customers to implement policies with confidence.

Finally, we wanted to get some depth to our quantitative findings. Here are what some respondents had to say about their likelihood to do business with a company that ended the sale of all assault-style rifles in its stores:

A company is socially aware and working toward the betterment of our country will always get my support over those who do not. – Female, 25-34

I am a loyal customer to many companies that provide me with their company’s mission, as well as, policies they support. I usually tend to do business with companies that share my same beliefs. If Walmart and Dicks Sporting Goods take a leap in the direction of stricter gun control on their end, then I admire that. Big-time companies as these are role models – and they have an opportunity to take this country in a positive direction. – Female, 35-44

I support the initiative of setting a positive standard without a government mandate being behind it. All other things being equal, I would try to shop there more. – Male, 35-44

I am an avid supporter of the Second Amendment, and I believe retailers should use their clout to encourage frank and logical discussion about the subject rather than meekly kowtow to the loudest emotional outcry.  It makes for bad decisions. – Male, 35-44

Methodology

The survey was conducted online from March 5 – 8, 2018 among 1,000 U.S. adults. In order to achieve an accurate demographic representation of the public, the data were weighted to U.S. Census benchmarks for gender, age and region. The margin of error for the full sample is 3.1 percentage points, and is higher for subgroups.

 

Be on the lookout for more quick-turn studies exploring other news and marketplace changes. In the meantime, you can check out some of the findings on past topics and events.

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