Elections matter for the reputation for the pharmaceutical industry

“Elections have consequences,” former President Barack Obama said in 2010.

Those consequences translate into shifts of government policy. Depending on what side of the election you are on, these shifts can negatively impact industries, companies and people.

{mosads}One of the industries with the most at stake from potential policy shifts is the pharmaceutical industry. Because of its importance to our country’s population health, the health of individuals and the sheer size and economic contribution to our economy the pharmaceutical industry is frequently the target of politicians as they try and win votes.


This in turn makes them a good case study for the impact of elections on corporate reputation.

Since 2010, APCO Insight has been exploring this question by assessing the perceptions of decision makers at the state and federal level regarding the biopharmaceutical industry.

At its core the question is do elections matter to their reputation? What does it mean to the industry exactly? Does such attention harm the reputation of the industry just because it is the target of heated and often negative attention from candidates? Given the intense political context of the present day we reviewed out data over the last seven years to try and answer these questions.

What we found is interesting with relevance far beyond the biopharmaceutical industry. It is a lesson to be learned and heeded for any company or industry that becomes the target during an election.

Somewhat surprisingly, surveys fielded during presidential election cycles show an upswing in reputation for the biopharmaceutical industry and then when measured in the off-election years a downswing.


What seems to be at work is that as the media coverage and public conversation become overwhelmed by the broad range of national and international issues, the emphasis on the pharma industry is offset. With the flood of issues, specific charges and counter-charges as well as the broad themes candidates try and convey, it becomes difficult for the voter to focus on any one industry. For the biopharmaceutical industry what the public sees and hears is a more general critique of the health care industry. The result is that it’s reputations is “shielded” from any damage.

This pattern reveals itself more dramatically as we drilled down into policy leaders, who are most closely entangled in the election cycle. The swings between election years and off-years is greater with the highs higher and the lows lower.

While elections have come to be mostly negative attacks on the candidates themselves, and coming from all directions, the campaigns themselves try and create a broader national narrative that centers on the strength of the U.S. and because of the importance of industry to our economy our industries.

This is not different for the biopharmaceutical industry, which often features conversation about its contributions to science, innovation and public health. Picture candidates touring manufacturing facilities surrounded by workers. We know from our polling that these are the bread and butter strengths for the industry so it is no surprise then when these traits are featured in the national debate the reputation of the industry is at its highest.

Why then does the reputation of the industry suffer in non-election years? In the off years, more specific issues come to the fore such as pricing, access and affordability and these are not issues that have positive attributes for the industry.

A reflection on the 2016 election is instructive. The election dialed up the volume and rhetoric on pricing conversations and the industry and its companies took note. They took actions to try and stave off the expected focus that the 2016 election raised including taking steps to enhance transparency into the practices of individual companies, adopting new pricing models and implementing other discount programs, all in an attempt to counter the expected coming attention.

This is important because as the trended analysis demonstrates, the industry can expect heightened attention and criticism and thus a hit to reputation. Therefore, they should continue to be on watch for more negative attention. A hint of this coming negative attention includes the Democrats’ latest proposal, “A Better Deal,” which among many new policy ideas keeps political attention on drug pricing.

So, the timing for movement is now. And this is not just for the biopharmaceutical industry. Our analysis, while focused on the industry, is useful for others because the analysis has consistently shown criticisms are bolstered, and reputation falls, following mid-term election years. The next step is on the industry to take now that the attention of the public and policymakers is not diverted by the voluminous conversation of our national election.

Chrystine Zacherau is a senior director with APCO Insight, the opinion research group at APCO Worldwide. Zacherau manages APCO Insight’s global health research. In addition to her research work she is also registered nurse. April Claassen is a director of health policy in APCO Worldwide’s Washington, D.C., office and works with APCO’s health-care clients.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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