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As global populism rises, so does fear among corporate elite: Survey

Supporters listen as President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence speak at U.S. Bank Arena on Dec. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati.
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Supporters listen as President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence speak at U.S. Bank Arena on Dec. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati.

From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump and the recent constitutional referendum in Italy, worldwide populist revolt is sending shock waves beyond the halls of government and into the elite C-suite.

Chief financial officers at major corporations expressed growing fears about the rise of populism and serious downside risks to the global economy in a recent survey.

Although not representing the majority, nearly 41 percent of CFOs believe the rise of populism in Europe and the United States had a negative impact on consumer demand, according to the latest CNBC Global CFO Council survey. That's a finding heightened by the fact that for the second quarter in a row, consumer demand was cited as the biggest external risk factor by CFOs.

There also was a sharp increase in concern among council members over the impact of Brexit and the U.S. election.

One U.S. respondent noted: "Business and consumer demand is tepid because of concerns over regulatory/government policy. Concern may be ebbing post-election, but demand has not yet picked up."

Two European respondents specifically noted their concern over a "European Union breakup" and the "rise of populism and protectionism globally."

The CNBC Global CFO Council represents some of the largest public and private companies in the world, collectively managing more than $4 trillion in market capitalization across a wide variety of sectors. The quarterly CFO Council poll was conducted from Nov. 28 to Dec. 6.

Post-election hangover

Interestingly, nearly 18 percent of CFOs said they are worried that growing political tension and division over the U.S. presidential election could have a negative impact on the productivity of employees.

When asked if council members' firms had taken any steps in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. election to quell potential employee concerns, nearly half of U.S. respondents said no action had been taken, while 52 percent said some form of messaging was sent to employees.

Complete survey results below:

(Note: Thirty-nine of the 106 current members of the CNBC Global CFO Council responded to this quarter's survey, including 23 U.S.-based members. Members represent a diverse mix of public and private companies from around the world, with more than $4 trillion in market capitalization.)