Rhetorically, a focus on enemies is pretty important. Sometimes they’re invented, and sometimes they’re based on a fundamental truth that is then enhanced and exaggerated. In terms of our concepts and communications, a moral universe seems to demand both gods and devils. And a convenient devil in many civil litigation contexts is the big corporation. Even when the corporation isn’t a party as a named defendant, they’ll often play a role as the insurance company that is presumed to be pulling the strings in the background. Anti-corporate attitudes within the potential jury pool is something that we at Persuasion Strategies have been tracking for nearly two decades.
And we have a new tool for tracking these and many other attitudes. BigJury is the name we have given to a service that is based on our own large dataset on juror attitudes that we have aggregated using the content from past surveys and small group research projects conducted nationwide. It allows us to slice and dice based on case type, venue, and a number of other factors. As part of the service, we can also generate new large-scale data in response to customized issues or brief case descriptions. Recently, we combed through this pool in order to provide an update on the current state of anti-corporate attitudes. The short answer: It’s not great for corporations, and may be getting worse. In this post, I’ll share three main conclusions.
1. Anti-Corporate Bias Is on the Rise
Years ago, Persuasion Strategies worked with the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in order to develop and to validate a scale measuring bias against corporations in a civil litigation contest. The result — the PS Anti-Corporate Bias Scale — uses seven questions to identify potential jurors who are less likely to favor a corporate defendant, both generally as well as in several specific types of litigation. Measured on a scale of 1 to 4, the trend is toward high bias. Also, after declining a bit for three years, the average went up again this past year.
2. Particularly in Younger Generations
There is reason to believe that this modest trend in the direction of greater bias will continue. One reason for that is what we see when we break the numbers down by generation. The least anti-corporate generation is the “Traditionalists,” who are now 73 or older, and the most anti-corporate, by far, is Generation Z, who are 18 to 21 year olds. Now, we might expect that generation to mellow with age, as the others have, but without ever quite getting to the previous generation’s average. The truth is that the people who once believed, as Eistenhower said, that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America”, are dying out.
We see this same trend line when we ask about attitudes toward government regulators and, in reverse, when we ask about specific kinds of companies.
3. And It Matters to Juror Decision Making
Naturally, jurors will not just hold to their general attitudes, but will respond to the particular case in front of them. However, our look at the data shows that in a number of specific case types, levels of general anti-corporate bias will predict their reactions to cases in a number of specific contexts.
Commercial Litigation: Jurors who say the government should police corporations less are 49 percent more likely to refrain from awarding damages than individuals who favor more regulation.
Employment Litigation: Jurors who say there are too few lawsuits against corporations are 31 percent more likely to find liability than jurors who believe there are too many.
Environmental Contamination Litigation: Jurors who believe there are too many lawsuits against corporations are three times as likely to render a defense verdict than those who believe there are too few.
Patent Litigation: Individuals who believe that the government favors corporations over ordinary Americans, to a large extent, are three times more likely to award above median damages than those who perceive little or no favoritism.
Product Liability Litigation: Mock jurors who say lawsuits against corporations typically have merit are 38 percent more likely to find liability than those who say lawsuits typically lack merit.
Ultimately, companies who are looking for a fair shake in the courtroom will need to continue to be vigilant on three fronts: identifying and striking the most extreme in voir dire, differentiating themselves in their main messages, and leveraging low expectations in order to emphasize the positive role of factors that might otherwise seem negative, like profit motive.
Image source: Artpictures.com, edited.