While Tesla (NYSE: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk has always been a controversial and polarizing figure, partially because he tends to speak his mind on various issues often without considering the consequences, his association with Tesla has always been a net positive.

However, of late there are concerns that Musk’s antics are hurting Tesla and are turning off some potential car buyers, specifically those on the left of the political divide.

According to car buyers surveyed by researcher Strategic Vision in October and November, the proportion of Democrats buying Tesla vehicles fell by more than 60%. While the survey showed that Tesla has made amends with Republican buyers, the company might still not have been able to offset the losses from losing liberal buyers – or at least that’s what its latest numbers seem to show.

Tesla’s deliveries fell over 8% YoY in Q1 which was the first time since 2020 that its shipments fell YoY. Also, the 9% revenue decline in the quarter was the worst since 2012. To be sure, it won’t be prudent to blame only Musk’s turning off liberal buyers for Tesla’s woes as the EV giant faces multiple other issues that are hurting sales.

There is a broad-based slowdown in electric vehicle (EV) sales, and automakers across the board are reconsidering their once-ambitious vehicle electrification plants. Then we have the macroeconomic slowdown, high interest rates, and ongoing tech layoffs that are dampening the sales of electric cars. The rising EV competition is not helping matters either as Tesla now no longer has a free run amid the flurry of competing models from rivals.

However, Musk has turned off Democratic buyers at probably the worst time because the company needs to expand its target audience amid the current turmoil in the EV industry.

Musk’s Antics Have Turned Off Some Liberal Buyers

To be sure, Musk’s relationship with Democrats did not worsen overnight and has been an ongoing process for the last couple of years. Things particularly went downhill after Musk acquired Twitter (Now X) in late 2022. While his controversies on the platform are innumerable, he has perhaps been criticized the most for supporting, retweeting, and agreeing with various antisemitic conspiracy theories.

A self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” Musk restored several banned accounts including that of former President Donald Trump. Among the accounts restored by X after Musk took over was that of Project Veritas which is a conservative media group that produces undercover videos that show the alleged liberal bias in the press. Its account was suspended in 2021 for releasing private information of individuals – a claim it denied.

Musk restored Kayne West’s account after it was suspended for posting several antisemitic comments (he said he “loves Hitler”). Musk himself was at the center of controversy when in response to a tweet that accused Jews of hating whites, he said, “You have said the actual truth.” While the billionaire later apologized for his antisemitic tweet, the damage was likely done.

But Musk is anything but consistent. Interestingly, he recently retweeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement calling for US universities to shut down pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel protests. The video, heavily criticized by much of Twitter’s progressive community including Kyle Kulinsky and Bassem Youssef, called the protestors antisemitic and claimed that it was “reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s.” It’s rather odd that Musk retweeted the statement after calling himself a free speech absolutist (and supporting various antisemitic conspiracy theories) but it shows exactly how confusingly impulsive he often is.

elon musk retweeting netanyahu

Musk has perhaps most fervently supported the conservative line on immigration. He lashed out against Disney for “being too woke” and shared a post about Disney’s hiring policies (that stated its inclusion criteria), calling upon those who were allegedly discriminated against by Disney to receive legal support. He called for the ouster of Disney’s CEO Bob Iger and supported Nelson Peltz in the proxy war that Disney eventually won.

Musk has also sparred with leading Democrat Bernie Sanders and previously vowed to support a Republican in the 2024 elections.

Liberals’ Apathy for Musk Is Mutual

The apathy between Musk and liberals seems mutual and at a White House press conference in 2022, when a reporter asked US President Joe Biden “Do you think Elon Musk is a threat to US national security and should the US, with the tools you have, investigate his joint acquisition of Twitter with foreign governments, which include the Saudis?”

Biden replied, “Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at.” He added, “Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate — I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting it’s worth being looked at. That’s all I’ll say.”

Musk hasn’t shared a good rapport with Biden who shunned the Tesla CEO and instead invited chiefs of Ford and General Motors to discuss scaling up EV production in the country.

The general perception is that EVs are more popular among liberals as compared to conservatives. After all, Trump, who is quite popular among Republican voters, is a climate change denier who not only exited the Paris Climate Deal but also toned down US emission standards and eased the policies for oil and gas exploration.

democrats vs republican ev ownership

However, research by the Environmental Defense Fund Action, based on the voter and vehicle data from L2, a political firm that sells voter registration and consumer records, does not seem to fully support this thesis.

While the findings don’t portray the complete picture of the EV market it showed that in six states – Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Arkansas, 50% or more of EVs were owned by registered Republicans.

That said, California, which is arguably among the most liberal state in the US, accounts for the bulk of EV sales and every third battery electric car sold in the country is registered there.

Separately, Strategic Vision’s surveys showed that while Democrats made up 40% and 39% of Tesla car buyers in 2022 and 2023, the number fell to a mere 15% in the 2024 model year survey while the share of Republicans swelled to 32% which is over twice that of Democrats.

Musk’s Antics Might be Hurting Tesla Investors

Meanwhile, liberals turning away from the company would possibly be the last thing that Tesla would want as it battles slowing sales. While Tesla stock rose following the Q1 earnings release earlier this week, it is among the bottom five S&P 500 stocks this year.

Cathie Wood of ARK Invest is among those who believe many potential car buyers might shun Tesla due to Musk’s controversies.

She however added, “But if he does what we think he’s going to do on the cost side, there are a lot of people who will use economics as their guide. Better car, better economics. And I think there are a lot more of those people than there are of the naysayers around Twitter.”

For now, Tesla’s valuations have plummeted and it trades at less than half of its all-time highs. While the company is banking on the low-cost model, robotaxis, full autonomy, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) products like the Optimus humanoid, it would need a lot more people on its side to revive its fortunes.

Sidelining nearly half of the US population (liberals) might not be the best strategy that Tesla needs amid the current challenging macro environment.