2022 Midterm Playbook: Risk and the Corporation
Pundits are calling the 2022 midterm elections the most important elections in history. It sounds hyperbolic, but the sentiment underscores how tense things are in the United States now and how invested people are in the coming races this fall.
Last year, the Justice Department launched a task force to investigate threats against election workers. Over 1,000 reports of hostile or harassing interactions were investigated. Local authorities are increasing security measures across the board.
The political environment is tense, and there are signs things will get worse. The 2022 midterm elections are on track to be the most expensive ever, and Democrats and Republicans are putting money into heated races over control of the House and Senate.
But what does that mean for corporate security leaders across the United States? Are they ready for what might come in November? Do they have what they need to keep their executives, the employees and the brand safe? Are security teams equipped with the tools that they need? Have they identified the resources needed to prevent negative events? Are they using security software and other tools to help them make informed decisions on how and where to deploy assets?
The Corporate Political Litmus Test
Very few things trigger strong emotions like recent political developments. It appears that no one is free from the us-versus-them thinking driving the discourse around voting, policy, and elections.
Any wrong move by companies and their executives can quickly draw unwelcome attention. We seem to hear about it every day. Even the appearance of political favoritism can draw the ire of the public. In a world where corporate executives are more public and accessible, people feel emboldened to influence and even intimidate businesses over statements or how a company responds to current affairs.
Damned If You Do…
Political activists aren’t just targeting companies and their executives for their actions; they’re also scrutinizing what’s not happening.
Unfortunately, people are choosing sides, and if you’re not with one team, or you don’t proclaim your allegiance loudly enough, it must mean you’re on the other squad.
Consider how Disney employees responded earlier this year when the company avoided making public statements opposing Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill. Pushback led to CEO Bob Chapek saying they were “reassessing our approach to advocacy – including political giving in Florida and beyond.”
Perhaps as expected, the comments drew strong criticism from supporters of the bill and Republican leaders in Florida. The problem is that, according to CNBC, a majority of American workers support corporate leaders taking public political positions. However, less than a third of them support speaking out if the organization’s political positions don’t align with personal beliefs.
We even saw this in our recent Mid-Year State of Protective Intelligence report with hot-button issues like the war in Ukraine resulting in threats directed toward U.S. companies. 66% of those surveyed said there was an increase in threats because their CEO and company expressed support for Ukraine (66%) while 32% said it was because their CEO did not take a stance at all.
The bottom line is companies and leaders should expect strong responses to public positions, donations, and statements.
Where Are the Threats?
Voter safety is an obvious concern, but other than providing general safety guidance, corporate security teams have little control over what happens when employees vote. Instead, security leaders must manage threats where they can influence the outcomes. Here are some things to look for in the 2022 midterm elections.
Potential Targeted Attacks
Cyber and physical attacks on company representatives are the highest threat to organizations related to the midterm elections. In addition, the increased focus to sway public perception toward one candidate or the other might inadvertently contribute to intensifying a person of interest’s (POI) unhealthy fixation on an executive.
It should be no surprise if people, including known POIs, attempt to pressure leaders into making statements about policies, candidates, or the outcome of specific races.
Midterm elections are not the same as presidential elections. Though midterms get a lot of attention in aggregate, the issues are much more local.
Traditionally, the potential for widespread protests is lower during midterms, but based on lessons learned from the summer of 2020, this time around could be different. Places like retail stores and public-facing businesses could face a higher risk.
Cybercriminals and hacktivists know emotions run high around elections. So, they’ll aim to take advantage of lapses in judgment and security. Of course, some organizations are more involved in managing disinformation than others. Still, every security leader should worry about how people respond to misinformation and whether it increases the risk of violence.
Expect frequent phishing scams based on election issues, voter registration, and political donations. Doxxing campaigns are also a concern related to employee political donations.
Preventing Political Retribution
Corporations have become a battleground over issues and overarching political movements in the past few years. Political retribution can come from making what people perceive as the wrong move or failing to move at all.
The question is whether security leaders and their teams are ready and prepared to keep the business running as they work to detect and deter risks to their organization, leaders and other employees.
Protective intelligence and active threat monitoring are critical to preventing politically motivated attacks. With the right tools, here’s what you can start doing today:
- Principals – Understand their level of political involvement to assess where threats may originate. Recognize their potential exposure via public records.
- Mapping – Take note of nearby polling stations. Track announcements related to road closures and other disruptions.
- Threats – Flag threats of violence and escalate as necessary.
- Update POIs – Analyze how involved POIs are in political discussions and whether the midterms could motivate them to attempt contact.
- Plan – Plan preventative measures before the elections and possible responses to security challenges after voting.
- Collaborate – Empower everyone across business units, like HR, cyber and business resilience, to contribute and communicate about threats and risks i.e. partnering with HR to identify offices that are likely protest hotspots.
The November midterm elections are less than a month away. Most of the focus, good and bad, will center on political parties and election officials. However, security teams should plan for increased scrutiny, particularly around corporate leaders and public sentiment regarding hotbed issues before and after the races.