U.S. Markets open in 5 hrs 9 mins

Trump, news, guns, and Nike: America's most polarizing brands

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

America’s most politically polarizing brands have become only more polarizing in the past year.

That’s according to research firm Morning Consult’s annual ranking of the most polarizing brands, determined from polling 336,370 U.S. adults between July 1 and August 8 and covering more than 3,700 brands.

No. 1 on the list is President Trump’s own hotel chain. No. 12 is gun-maker Smith & Wesson. And No. 15 is apparel giant Nike (NKE). Every other name in the top 15 is a media outlet.

The top 15 looks very close to last year’s top 15, minus BET, HuffPost, Time Magazine, MTV, Chick-fil-A, and the NFL, all of which made the top 15 last year but have now dropped off, perhaps a sign that those particular media names fell out of the day-to-day political conversation in 2019. The NFL dropping off makes sense, after the player protests died down and ratings rebounded.

To measure polarization, Morning Consult looks at the spread in favorability of each name with Republicans vs Democrats. In the last year, that spread has grown the most for Fox News (increased by 19 points) and CNN (14 points), of the media names in the top 15. But of all the brands in the top 15 overall, Nike’s polarization has leapt the most by far: 42 points. Nike is now favored by Democrats almost as heavily as Trump Hotels is favored by Republicans.

Morning Consult's ranking of polarizing brands, Oct. 1, 2019.

In the case of Nike, the cause of its political polarization is clear. In fall 2018, the brand launched an ad campaign starring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016 began kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem as a way to protest police brutality in America.

When the campaign first launched, many conservatives railed on social media that they would boycott the brand. But Foursquare, which tracks location data, found that foot traffic to Nike stores spiked 17% in the week after the ad campaign first dropped. Nike stock rose 4% in the month after the campaign launched.

People walk by a Nike billboard featuring Colin Kaepernick on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

In fact, there are signs that for most of the brands on Morning Consult’s list, being polarizing has been good for business. New York Times subscriptions hit a 13-year high this year, and CNN’s ratings have spiked, even as Trump has persistently called out both outlets for “fake news.”

Smith & Wesson parent company American Outdoor Brands (AOBC) does not match that trend: the stock is down 55% in 2019.

Daniel Roberts is a senior writer and on-air host at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

Read more:

Wayfair is the latest example of brands getting burnt by politics

Estee Lauder is latest target of anti-Trump boycott group

Miami Dolphins owner's Trump ties land Equinox, SoulCycle in political hot water

Dunkin’ exec: ‘We are not Starbucks, we are not political’

German family that owns Krispy Kreme and Panera is reckoning with its Nazi past

From Tiki to Tic Tac, Trump era has forced consumer brands into politics