Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Take with a grain of salt: Pollsters figure the way we eat is a strong indicator of how we vote

Excerpts from “What’s for dinner? The pollster wants to know” New York Times, Apr. 16, 2008

“Although precincts and polls are being parsed, the political advisers to the presidential candidates are also looking closely at consumer behavior, including how people eat, as a way to scavenge for votes…The idea is that in the brand-driven United States, what we buy and how we spend our free time is a good predictor of our politics.

Although gender, religion and other basic personal data are much more valuable for pollsters, information about eating — along with travel and hobbies — are in the second tier of data used to predict how someone might vote.

So, for example, someone who subscribes to lots of gourmet cooking magazines is more likely to be a Democrat or at least more open to progressive causes. That can help a campaign decide if it’s worth spending money courting that person’s vote.

When it comes to fried chicken, he said, Democrats prefer Popeyes and Republicans Chick-fil-A. ‘Anything organic or more Whole Foods-y skews more Democratic.’”

That said,

“Whether a campaign uses a lot or a little consumer information, it can cause trouble if not interpreted correctly, some political veterans cautioned.

An environmentally minded independent who trends Democratic might buy organic milk, but so might an independent conservative who is more concerned about the health of her children than the state of the earth. They buy the same product, but for different reasons. Send an environmental message to the conservative and you could lose her vote.

Some people who cook and serve food have been students of microtargeting for years. JoAnn Clevenger, the owner of the Upperline restaurant in New Orleans, doesn’t need a data set to identify how customers might vote. She just watches what they order.

“The Republicans are more formal and have more attention to structure when they eat,” she said. The classic example would be her delicate trout meunière. Democrats tend to order earthy, down-home food with lots of juice for sopping, like Cane River country shrimp with garlic, bacon and mushrooms.

But lately she’s seen a lot of interest from both sides for her Oysters St. Claude. It’s the ultimate crossover dish, and she believes it’s popular this year because voters are being pulled in several directions.

‘You have a respect and a yearning for the past,’ she said, but a feeling like you want something new and exciting that says let’s go all the way.’”

So, what do you think? Do the pollsters have us figured out? or is this a bunch of rubbish?

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