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Here’s What Footwear Companies Care About in the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections

The 2022 U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 8 are fast approaching — and Americans will cast ballots in pivotal national, state and local races that will help decide the future of the country. Several economic and social issues are expected to drive voters to the polls, particularly inflation and access to abortions.

In terms of what is motivating fashion and footwear leaders politically, Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) said it comes down to having a functional government.

“There’s a lot of frustration right now that there are so many things that need to occur and that don’t occur because folks are interested in sticking to the wedge issues rather than trying to come together and solve things, whether it’s trade, supply chains or climate change,” he said. “All of these issues are top of mind for fashion executives, and there’s incredible disappointment that Washington has dropped the ball.”

For the past two years, the AAFA and the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) have lobbied hard for the Biden Administration to address trade issues, particularly the additional China Section 301 tariffs imposed under the Trump leadership. By rolling back the tariffs, Biden could chip away at price inflation, but he has been hesitant to act, partly because key voters don’t want it.

FDRA president and CEO Matt Priest explained, “If you think about Biden’s win in 2020, he clawed back the working-class voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania. And when you ask those voters what they care about when it comes to trade, there is a strong desire not to lower duties with China.”

Whether the political winds will change after the midterms remains to be seen. Current polling suggests that the Democrats are likely to lose control of the House of Representatives. That could lead to more stagnation in Congress — or a greater need to collaborate, said Lamar.

But it all depends on who casts ballots in the coming weeks.

Traditionally, midterm elections have much lower turnout than in presidential years. In 2018, for instance, 53% of the voting-age population participated, according to the Census Bureau. That was the highest midterm turnout in four decades, but still lower than the 66.8% for the 2020 presidential election (the highest turnout of the 21st century).

2020 also saw tremendous participation among footwear companies, which unleashed big “get out the vote” campaigns or enacted new policies to help employees cast ballots.

For the 2022 midterms, the noise level is significantly lower, but shoe brands and retailers say they’re still active in civic engagement. Dick’s Sporting Goods, for instance, is one of the nearly 2,000 signees of the Time to Vote pledge. “At Dick’s, we encourage our teammates to vote and give them the flexibility to do so,” said a company representative. Other major signees from the shoe industry include Nike Inc., Caleres, REI, Steven Madden Ltd., Tapestry and VF Corp.

Priest said that “get out the vote” efforts should be an easy yes for footwear companies because there’s little chance of alienating customers or workers on either side of the political spectrum. FDRA recently updated its ShoeVoter.info site, a free nonpartisan portal to help members educate their teams for the midterms. “You’re encouraging people to participate in the process, which seems like the right thing to do as a company,” he said.

The fact that fewer companies are talking about it in 2022 could be the result of political fatigue or caution after prior blowback. But Lamar points to the fact that civic engagement has become baked in to corporate operations. “It’s kind of gone into more of a sustainment mode, not just about voting, but about registering and becoming aware of issues,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that’s been going on over the last couple of years, but it’s more writing in the background rather than high profile.”

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