CEOs can have a huge influence over which candidates their employees support

ByJames Dennin

Business leaders don't even need to attend fundraisers or start a super PAC to influence elections.

According to a new study from researchers at Arizona State University, Bocconi University and the University of Lugano, when a company's CEO supports a given candidate, employees tend to give more money to that candidate as well — three times more.

While the researchers didn't go so far as to call the relationship "causal" — meaning researchers couldn't quite prove that employees didn't have other reasons for supporting a given candidate — the correlation between the voting preferences of CEOs and their employees was surprising. 

After all, "employees typically have different socioeconomic characteristics from those of CEOs" — for instance, not being millionaires — "and may therefore favor different political outcomes."

The study combined data from the Federal Election Commission with biographical information from BoardEX, examining political donations from employees at more than 2,000 companies over the course of eight election cycles between 1999 and 2014. 

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

In addition to donating more money, employees were also more likely to vote when CEOs make campaign contributions.

Most importantly, the effects were strongest in companies that "are politically active and regulated," the researchers found. 

There's long been anecdotal evidence of different companies encouraging their employees to vote for certain candidates.

Back in 2012, Georgia Pacific, the consumer staples company owned by Charles and David Koch, sent a missive to its 45,000 employees that included "a list of candidates in your state that have been supported by Koch companies."

This new research suggests that actively lobbying your employees might not even be necessary.