WASHINGTON—With polls this week showing the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tightening even further, a growing number of political experts have declared this year's election will almost certainly be decided by a small handful of swing corporations.
"While most publicly traded companies are solidly red or blue, there are four or five major corporations that are complete tossups right now, and any one of them could prove decisive come November," said Nate Silver of The New York Times, noting in particular that Procter & Gamble, a traditional bellwether for the country as a whole, remained a "total wildcard." "Both candidates will have to focus almost exclusively on these swing businesses in order to gain the upper hand."
"And given how close this race is, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing comes down to undecided executives at Dow Chemical or Disney," Silver continued. "Let's not forget 2000, when Philip Morris International single-handedly put George W. Bush into office."
According to polling data, the president's favorability has fallen steadily among independent-leaning multinationals, a demographic that effectively carried him to victory in 2008. Additionally, the latest figures suggest that even some reliably Democratic strongholds, such as Google, may now be in play, buoying hopes within the Romney camp that the GOP challenger could take the White House with an unexpected victory in a key tech boardroom.
Recognizing the importance of these closely contested conglomerates, both Obama and Romney have made frequent campaign stops at swing corporations in recent weeks and delivered speeches aimed squarely at these pivotal companies’ interests, with both candidates blasting each other as out of touch with the issues that truly matter to real American CEOs.
"As president, I promise to stand up for you in Washington and always put you first," Romney said earlier this week, addressing an audience in the battleground boardroom of Time Warner during a barnstorming tour through the communications sector. "All of you good, hardworking people gathered here represent the best of America, and mark my words, I will do everything in my power to fight for your freedoms and prosperity."
Political observers have noted the stakes of this year's election are unusually high, with many experts claiming the Affordable Care Act's fate, the tax burden on American families, and a possible U.S. invasion of Iran are questions that now reside entirely in the hands of those few Fortune 500 corporations that remain up for grabs.
"I went with Obama in 2008, but now I'm having my doubts," said Kenneth Frazier, an undecided CEO at the Merck corporation. "Frankly, I've been disappointed with his failure to follow through on the promises he made to us four years ago. This time around, I want to make sure I'm voting for someone who truly has the best interests of me and my company at heart."
"It's kind of exciting, though," Frazier added. "Who knows? Maybe in November it will be our $15 million backing funneled anonymously into a political action committee that decides this whole thing."