Hollywood’s left-leaning politics has made the industry a bête noire among conservatives for decades. But Netflix has made some recent moves that have especially rankled Republicans.
In March, the streamer named Susan Rice — former national security adviser to President Obama, and a conservative target in the Bengazi scandal — to its board of directors. Last month, Netflix officially announced an exclusive multiyear deal with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions for original programming. And last week, it premiered “The Break with Michelle Wolf” — a late-night-style show from the comedian who delivered a blistering takedown of the Trump administration and other conservative politicos at the White House Correspondents Association dinner.
Thousands of right-wingers have taken to social media to express their unhappiness with Netflix’s left turns. They’ve condemned Netflix, announced they have dropped the streaming service, and urged like-minded folks to also cancel.
How much has Netflix alienated the right? New data from YouGov, a brand-perception research firm, indicates that Netflix’s positive-impression rating among Republicans in the U.S. has drifted down 16% from the beginning of 2018 through May 31, according to data from YouGov’s BrandIndex. At the same time, Netflix’s approval rating with Democrats has risen 15% over the same time period (see chart, below).
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That said, Netflix maintains a relatively high favorability rating — even among Americans who identify as Republicans. YouGov BrandIndex’s Impression survey measures overall perception on a scale of -100 to 100, and Netflix is in firm positive territory across the political spectrum.
Indeed, Netflix is the No. 2 most popular TV network overall tracked by YouGov (based data from Nov. 10, 2017-May 28, 2018), ranking behind only Discovery. For 2017, Netflix had the second-highest average “buzz” score after Amazon, per YouGov’s measurement of week-to-week consumer reactions brands — ahead of Nike, Apple and M&M’s. Netflix also is No. 7 among brands people say they’d be “proud” to work for on YouGov’s 2018 workforce ranking.
All the same, the 21-point differential in Netflix’s brand perception scores as of May 31 between Dems (62.8) and GOP-ers (41.8) on YouGov’s Impression survey is telling.
Netflix declined to comment on the YouGov results. (The company typically does not weigh in on third-party data.)
For now, it’s difficult to definitively gauge the scope of the #CancelNetflix conservative backlash, and whether that will put any kind of dent in its subscriber momentum. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer — who has personal ties to Democratic figures — has suggested critics wait for the actual content that emerges from the Obamas’ production company before passing judgment.
“This is not The Obama Network,” said Sarandos, speaking at the Paley Center for Media in New York on May 29. “There’s no political slant to the programming.”
The disavowal by Sarandos that the Obamas will not produce content with a political agenda has not gone over well with conservatives who harbor an intractable enmity toward the 44th U.S. president.
And Sarandos’ statements are fairly disingenuous. While Higher Ground probably won’t produce a documentary, say, exploring the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, the content is expected to have a progressive worldview. One idea that’s brewing is for a Netflix show hosted by Barack Obama discussing health care, voting rights, immigration, foreign policy, and climate change, per a New York Times report.
Meanwhile, “The Break with Michelle Wolf,” the weekly half-hour variety/sketch series with new episodes streaming every Sunday, certainly isn’t helping Netflix win over any conservative fans. In her June 3 segment, Wolf delivers this zinger: “Don’t compare Trump to an ape — because that’s rude to apes! Compared to Trump, apes are quite accomplished!”
To put this into perspective, Netflix’s politically charged content is just a tiny fraction of the stuff it pumps out. I’m guessing most customers probably don’t care about the board appointment of Susan Rice — or even know who she is. And through its relationship with the Obamas, Netflix is calculating that the appeal of the ex-First Couple will outweigh upsetting any haters.
Then there’s this important point: Netflix is a global service, operating in more than 190 countries. Barack Obama left office last year with very high worldwide approval ratings: an average of 76% of respondents in 24 countries said he was a good president, according to research firm Ipsos. Asked about Trump, 66% said they believed he would be a bad president.
Pictured above: Netflix’s “The Break with Michelle Wolf”