Amid divisions, brands must show they can help

NEW YORK: Consumers are seeking a sense of unity as the majority of Americans say the nation has become more divided over the past decade, according to a study by polling firm Penn Schoen Berland and Burson-Marsteller.

NEW YORK: Consumers are seeking a sense of unity as the majority of Americans say the nation has become more divided over the past decade, according to a study by polling firm Penn Schoen Berland and Burson-Marsteller.

The second annual Atlantic/Aspen Institute American Values Survey found that more than 60% of Americans believe the US is more divided than it was 10 years ago, and 20% doubt it will remain united as one country. On the latter question, the majority of respondents who said they expect the US to split up identified themselves as conservatives. Respondents age 65 and older were most likely to think the US is more divided now than at any time in history.

“People say we're more divided than in any recent time except the Civil Rights era, but they also clearly have a strong yearning to be united. They're deeply hopeful,” said Don Baer, worldwide chair and CEO of Burson and chairman of PSB.

Most respondents said political leaders, rather the economy, religion, or social issues, are the main source of division in the country, the study showed. More specifically, 59% said “money in politics” is the main source of division, and 45% cited “congressional gridlock.”

“They're frustrated our leaders are not doing more to bring us together. It points to the fact that the political system seems to be broken,” Baer said.

The survey's results mean communicators have an opportunity to show how companies and organizations are aiding and uniting people, Baer said. Consumers have a "strong desire for more community," he added.

“I see a lot of companies trying to portray themselves as there to help consumers, letting them know they're not in this alone,” Baer said. “It's a good message, but what has to go along with it are real proof points. People are skeptical, because we've been through a lot.”

PSB and Burson conducted 2,010 interviews for the study between May 29 and June 8. The findings will be presented Saturday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is hosted by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. This is the fifth consecutive year that PSB and Burson have conducted a poll for the event.

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