Most voters have not heard of the environmental, social, and corporate governance movement, often abbreviated as ESG, even as they oppose the controversial philosophy’s fundamental assertion that investments should be leveraged for political or ideological purposes.
Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies and The Harris Poll unveiled a recent survey of registered voters which found that 64% of respondents “have not heard of” the movement, which could emerge as an issue amid the 2024 presidential election, particularly among Republicans. When asked whether “investment managers have a duty to prioritize returns above all else” or whether they should be permitted to “take climate and ESG into consideration,” a 52% majority agreed with the former statement and 48% agreed with the latter.
Supporters of the ESG movement assert that corporations must exercise their financial power in support of policies which are considered to have beneficial effects on the environment or society at large. Skeptics, on the other hand, contend that the philosophy intermixes political and social causes favored by executives in a manner that distracts companies from profitability.
Some 63% of Republicans affirmed that investment managers should “prioritize returns above all else,” while 56% of Democrats affirmed that fiduciaries can “take climate and ESG into consideration.” Equal shares of independents, on the other hand, supported the two assertions.
The survey results indicate that many Americans are skeptical of the ESG movement’s core assumptions and desire their funds to be allocated in a politically neutral manner. An exclusive poll conducted by The Daily Wire last year showed that 64% of respondents believe “individual investors whose savings are being invested” should decide whether funds are appropriated according to ESG standards, while 20% believe that “Wall Street asset managers” should make such decisions.
Voters were divided when asked by Harvard and Harris about specific policy proposals related to ESG and forwarded by Democrats and Republicans. Some 53% of respondents supported President Joe Biden’s move to veto a resolution that would have barred “retirement fund managers from incorporating climate and ESG considerations in their investing decisions,” while 56% of respondents backed a decision from Texas lawmakers to blacklist “financial companies for allegedly using ESG considerations to eliminate their investments in fossil fuel industries,” a policy which could “force state pensions and other public entities to sell their shares.”
ESG has emerged as a salient issue in recent years as Republican state treasurers and attorneys general divest state pension funds from asset management firms that promote the movement. Candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are expected to voice their criticisms of the philosophy: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has not yet officially announced his candidacy, has repeatedly made headlines for publicly opposing ESG, while Vivek Ramaswamy, a former biotechnology executive who recently established an asset management firm of his own, entered the race largely as an opponent of corporate wokeness.
Former President Donald Trump, who has generally been the frontrunner in early Republican primary polls, established the Labor Department rule which barred retirement managers from investing in accordance with the ESG movement and eventually culminated in a reversal from Biden, who officially announced his re-election campaign this week.