Corporate Climate Change Disclosure during the Trump Administration: Evidence from Standalone CSR Reports

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Taylor & Francis (Routledge)

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Accounting Forum

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In support of legitimacy theory arguments for corporate social responsibility disclosure, a variety of prior studies document that either increases or decreases in social and regulatory cost exposures appear to lead to corresponding changes in the level of information provided. However, none of these studies investigates a situation where social and regulatory cost exposure changes are not in sync; a situation we argue taking place with respect to the Trump presidency in the United States, and none considers the role that political polarization might play in company responses. Based on a sample of 170 large U.S. firms, we find that the extent of climate change disclosure in standalone CSR reports did not appear to change, on average, from the Pre-Trump (2014–2015) to the Trump (2017–2018) eras. However, cross sectional analysis indicates more negative changes in disclosure for companies headquartered in states strongly supporting Trump in the 2016 election relative to other firms and more positive changes for companies in carbon intensive industries. Where firms are subject to both factors, we provide evidence that, at least with respect to space allocated to climate change disclosure in the reports, the increased social concerns appear to dominate reduced regulatory exposures. Our results support legitimacy theory arguments, but illustrate the importance of disentangling potentially competing effects, and suggest attention needs to be paid to potential differing political climates in the locales of organizations’ headquarters.


Accounting Forum, Vol. 45, No. 2 (April 2021): 118-141. DOI.