Concern about the possibility of a disputed US election result in November is prompting executives to warn that the stability on which companies and markets depend is at risk if Americans cannot trust that their vote will be counted.
More than 50 business leaders, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Baupost chief executive Seth Klarman and former Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer, issued a statement on Wednesday urging elected officials to ensure that every vote is tallied and calling on media outlets to avoid calling what may be a drawn-out election prematurely.
“The health of our economy and markets depends on the strength of our democracy,” Mr Hoffman said, warning that inaccurate reporting of the election results would “cause havoc in the business world and beyond”.
Executives’ anxiety has grown since President Donald Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election. The statement’s organisers are approaching hundreds of other executives, hoping to send a message that the business community would strongly oppose any lapse in electoral norms.
Some executives remained “hesitant” about speaking out about the election, said Daniella Ballou-Aares, chief of the Leadership Now Project, which organised the statement. She added, however, “we should assume that if we get into a bad situation, there are many more who are willing to come out with concerns that our democracy is critical”.
“Business leaders need to throw their support [behind] democratic processes at a time when public tensions have risen,” said Michael Porter, the Harvard Business School professor who is advising Leadership Now. The business community’s concerns ranged from market instability to the question of whether “peace in the streets” could be maintained, he said.
“Markets have been communicating that they would prefer to see stability in the political environment,” Eddie Fishman, managing director of the hedge fund DE Shaw and another signatory, told the Financial Times.
Last Friday, UBS analysts wrote that Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s widening lead in the polls was reducing market uncertainty about the election. They added, however, that investors found a delayed or contested election outcome an “even more unsettling” prospect than a “blue wave” in which Democrats won the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, allowing Mr Biden’s party to increase corporate taxes and regulation.
Concern among business elites about the state of US democracy has been growing, with one study of HBS alumni last year finding that almost 70 per cent believed dysfunctional politics were threatening the country’s competitiveness. The US Chamber of Commerce warned last week that “crippling partisanship” was stymying progress.
Companies also regarded the election as “fraught with possible problems” internally as employees brought opposing political views to work, said Bob Feldman, founder of the Dialogue Project, an attempt to address polarisation, which has been backed by companies including Google.
“The only certainty on the Wednesday morning after the election is that it’s going to be very difficult. I’ve heard from a lot of senior corporate executives that they’re worried about it. A lot of people are worried about civil unrest,” he said.
Prof Porter argued that executives could play an essential role in addressing such divisions, however, as they are often seen as non-partisan figures. “If business leaders can help build trust in our democratic processes, we can do much to avoid civil strife,” he said.