Way we live is the way we vote

Kate Baxendale

Psychographics is the study of lifestyles, according to Professor of Marketing, Gene Brown. Forbes Magazine and Strategic Vision studies confirm bipartisan consumer choices. According to these studies, particular restaurant chains and car brands tend to be favorable to one party or the other.

Forbes Magazine conducted a study to discover whether certain restaurant chains cater more to Democrats or Republicans. This study, which examined contributions made by companies’ Political Action Committees (PACs), executives and owners, concluded that Republicans have more choices of restaurants than Democrats if the restaurant is chosen by political party affiliation.

Chick-fil-a Founder S. Truett Cathy is a staunch supporter of the Republican Party. Chili’s contributes to the Republican Party, as does its CEO Doug Brooks. Church’s Chicken and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store primarily support the GOP. Popular chains such as Domino’s Pizza, Hardee’s and McDonald’s all support the Republican Party. Domino’s Company Chairman David Brandon was finance co-chair for Romney’s 2008 campaign. The PAC at CKE Restaurants, Hardee’s parent company, supports Romney. McDonald’s Chairman Andrew McKenna and the PAC support the GOP.  Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse, has donated 67 percent of PAC funds to Republicans. Wendy’s Chairman Nelson Peltz has made donations to both political parties, but in the current election has contributed to Romney. The company PAC prefers Republicans. White Castle CEO E.W. Ingram III and the company PAC donates primarily to the GOP.

Panera Bread Company and Dairy Queen are at the other end of the spectrum. Panera Founder Ronald M. Shaich supports Democratic candidates. Warren Buffett, chief of Dairy Queen’s parent company Berkshire Hathaway, contributes to the Obama Victory Fund.

Other popular restaurants such as Applebee’s, IHOP, Sonic, Starbucks, Subway and Papa John’s either have evenly distributed political support or none at all.

The Forbes study explained the difficulty in assessing companies’ political campaign donations because companies are not required to list contributions made, while some outside organizations do not give credit to the donors. It is possible to eat at a restaurant that caters to one’s political “taste.”

Brown, however, disagrees with these results.

“I don’t know of any research indicating that politics influence consumption patterns,” Brown said. “I don’t think firms are concerned with buyer’s political views.”

Strategic Vision, a research-based consultancy, has collected political party research over the past two years on more than 75,000 new vehicle buyers. The results indicated  political party affiliation is correlated to people’s choices in automobile make and models.

While a slight majority of new vehicle buyers identify as Republican (37 percent Republican vs. 31 percent Democrat), the percentages vary depending on specific makes and models. The majority of “Multi-Function” Luxury (station wagon) vehicles are sold to Democrats (37 percent vs. 30 percent Republican). However Republicans are more likely to buy Luxury Sedans (49 percent vs. 27 percent). Republicans make up 69 percent of people who buy convertibles.

“For example, you wouldn’t just take this data on convertible buyers and only create ‘Republican appealing’ messages, but instead ask yourself about the conquest opportunity with Democratic buyers who don’t gravitate as much to convertibles. Our detailed findings will tell you why,” he said. “However, you still can’t ignore the obvious. If I were selling a convertible, I’d consider buying some air-time on Fox News.”

According to UMKC Professor of Political Psychology, Beth Miller, this is more related to demographics than political party.

“There are important demographic differences in voting behavior,” Miller said. “Women are slightly more likely to vote Democrat than men. Whites are significantly more likely to vote Republican than non-whites. As income increases, vote for the Republican Party becomes more likely. Church attendance is generally related to voting behavior with those attending religious services regularly (weekly or more than weekly) most likely to vote Republican. However, an important caveat to a discussion of demographics and voting is that there are no absolutes.

Strategic Vision President Alexander Edwards explained how this data should be applied.”

Strategic Vision also collected data on nearly 500 attributes of new vehicle buyers including ethnicity, media consumption habits, which type of cell phones the buyers carry and various psychographics and attitudes. The collection of this data is important in order to understand the buyers’ decision-making process.

“Although most people are more alike than they are different and personal values are pretty much universal, there are important differences in the strength or intensity of such personal emotions and the way people express them.”

For example, Republicans were slightly more likely (more than 5 percent) to feel safe, secure and in control. Democrats were four percent more likely to consider themselves ‘smart’, with seven percent more having post-graduate degrees.

Psychology professor Jennifer Ludgren also attributed this to personality.

“Personality traits can influence openness to ideas, engagement or sense of activism,” Ludgren said. “Someone who is more introverted may be less comfortable campaigning for a candidate or taking a public stand of a political issue, compared to someone who is more extroverted.”

Although the focus of the study may be Democratic and Republican, other new vehicle buyers who identified as Green, Libertarian, Tea Party or “Other” were also taken into consideration. Libertarians were found to be among the youngest (median age 48) and affluent (annual median income $93k) of new vehicle buyers. The following makes and models represent the top five most popular vehicles for Democrats: Honda Civic Hybrid, Volvo C30, Nissan Leaf, Acura TSX Wagon and Ford Fiesta Sedan.

The following vehicles are the top five most popular for Republicans: Ford Mustang Convertible, Audi A8, Mercedes GL, Ford Expedition and Ford F-150. “

Strategic Vision Vice-President Christopher Chaney said he believed the findings would be interesting in a major election year.

“We certainly can appreciate the anecdotal discussions that explain why these consumers make the decisions they do, but the actionable steps to create more sales comes from understanding at the brand/model level such things as ‘openness’ and Freedom associated with Convertibles and those who vote Republican—for example,” he said.

The results of political party choices on vehicle segments can be understood as obvious or even stereotypical. Democrats tend to buy small cars (35 percent vs. 26 percent) and small multi-function cars (42 percent vs. 24 percent), while Republicans tend to select minivans (40 percent vs. 26 percent), medium (41 percent vs. 18 percent), large (76 percent vs. 5 percent) and luxury SUVs (53 percent vs. 22 percent). Republicans also tend to lean more toward Standard Pickup (40 percent vs. 24 percent) and Full-Size Pickup (51 percent vs. 24 percent) trucks than Democrats do.

With these findings, the political views of American citizens could be revealed through consumer choices. One could assume that a person driving a Ford F-150 at the drive-thru of a Chick-fil-a is likely to vote for Romney on Tuesday, while a person driving a Nissan Leaf with a Panera I.C. Mocha in hand is likely to be an avid supporter of Obama.

Although the findings appear to be logical, Lundgren believes the reasoning should be found in personality instead of stereotypical political bias.

“Some of our work suggests that beliefs about personality characteristics and intelligent that are based on stereotypes and physical appearance can impact the way political candidates are viewed. In other words, physical appearance can influence a voters perception of the leader’s intelligence, character, and skill.”

[email protected]

[email protected]