At your neighborhood Walmart, you might see more pussy hats and fewer MAGA caps on customers these days. And Walmart’s increasing willingness to be political could be the reason behind it.
Today, 10.4% more Democrats say they have a positive perception of Walmart WMT, +1.72% than a negative one, according to a new report from YouGov BrandIndex, the division of the global analytics firm that tracks public perception of brands through daily online surveys. That represents a major shift from the beginning of 2013, when 11.6% more Democrats said they felt more negative than positive about the brand.
“Impression among consumers who identify among as Democrats has improved over the last five years,” possibly in response to the stances the company has taken on certain political issues, said Ted Marzilli, CEO of Data Products at YouGov and leader of the BrandIndex business unit. But more Democrats liking Walmart doesn’t necessarily mean fewer Republicans do. “It doesn’t seem like they’ve alienated consumers who are Republicans,” Marzilli said.
Overall, among all consumers, Walmart has seen a net gain in positive perceptions since 2013, Marzilli said.
However, the data show that Republicans have soured slightly on Walmart over the past few years. Today only 18.7% more Americans who align with the GOP say they have positive view of Walmart rather than negative, versus 23.1% at the start of 2013.
That’s an improvement from before the 2016 presidential elections though: Republican sentiment regarding the company reached its nadir in April 2016 in the midst of the presidential primaries. Indeed, Walmart’s popularity among both Democrats and Republicans has improved notably since President Trump was elected.
Democrats growing fondness for Walmart could be a reflection of the public political stances the retailer has taken in recent years. The company’s CEO, Doug McMillon, joined other retailers in 2015 in voicing his opposition to so-called “religious freedom” bills that opponents said would allow for discrimination against LGBT people. That same year, the company said it would raise pay for 500,000 employees to at least $9 an hour, well above the federal minimum wage.
Most recently, Walmart announced it would impose a minimum age requirement for consumers looking to buy a firearm. That announcement, like those that preceded it, didn’t prompt a significant negative reaction among shoppers who identify as Republicans, YouGov found. “Walmart’s done a nice job of navigating the political or policy landscape over the last five years,” Marzilli said.
But another factor that could be working to Walmart’s benefit is the increasing prominence of Amazon over the past decade. As Marzilli put it, Walmart was the “800-pound gorilla in the retail space” over a decade ago, and now Amazon AMZN, -4.53% is starting to fill that role.
Currently, Amazon scores higher among consumers across the political spectrum than Walmart does. But that could change as Amazon’s dominance in retail becomes more solidified, Marzilli said. “That creates polarization among consumers,” he said. “That brand becomes the talking point or punching bag for everything that’s good or bad about that category or America.”