Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bourbon, Pizza, and James Carville

It’s common knowledge that political scientists and campaign strategists use race, gender, religion, and similar categories to predict people’s votes. The New York Times Dining and Wine section reported today that there is a second tier of demographic data for predicting votes, and it includes food. The article spends much of its time describing the process of microtargeting – using consumer and cultural details to improve voter turnout – but I’m more interested in the food details.

If there’s butter and white wine in your refrigerator and Fig Newtons in the cookie jar, you’re likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. Prefer olive oil, Bear Naked granola and a latte to go? You probably like Barack Obama, too.

And if you’re leaning toward John McCain, it’s all about kicking back with a bourbon and a stuffed crust pizza while you watch the Democrats fight it out next week in Pennsylvania.

I find this highly amusing. Why? Well, my political preference goes Obama, Clinton, McCain, and yet my food preference goes McCain, Clinton, Obama. Bourbon and pizza? That’s my night to a T! And last night, as well! But I do admit I also like white wine and Fig Newtons. But Bear Naked granola? Never even heard of it. And lattes? Please. Black drip coffee all the way, my friend.

Fortunately, there is something to balance out the pro-Clinton habits, if not the McCain instincts.

In last summer’s polling, the latest available, Mrs. Clinton scored high among voters who also had favorable views of McDonalds, Wal-Mart and Starbucks.

Perfect. Because I dislike all three of those things, especially the second. Give me diners, Target or Amazon, and local coffeeshops all the way! The article goes on:

Dr Pepper is a Republican soda. Pepsi-Cola and Sprite are Democratic. So are most clear liquors, like gin and vodka, along with white wine and Evian water. Republicans skew toward brown liquors like bourbon or scotch, red wine and Fiji water...

"Anything organic or more Whole Foods-y skews more Democratic," Mr. Dowd said.

Yes, I know Democrats are supposed to be all about the arugula and champagne, but the fact is, I don’t even know what arugula is. What I do know is that Dr. Pepper is my primary physician, and bourbon and scotch are far, far superior to gin and vodka. I am left wondering, however – how do tap water drinkers vote? Because I have absolutely no use for either Evian or Fiji. Truth is, I’m not even entirely sure I’m familiar with either one. You sure that’s not just the difference between left wing and liberal?

Thankfully, not all pollsters or strategists take this stuff too seriously. There’s a reason it’s in the Times’ Dining and Wine section rather than its National political page.

Some, notably James Carville, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, see microtargeting as a waste of time and money…

"Suppose I found out people who drink cappuccinos are Democrats and black coffee drinkers are likely to vote Republican?" he asked. "So what? All kinds of other things are more predictive and less expensive to find out."

Besides, the lines between who eats what continues to blur. Republicans are not necessarily red-meat-eating bourbon swillers, and not all Democrats are carrying their lattes to the farmers’ market.

Spot on, and not just where food stains are concerned. I think this is true about microtargeting in general. The fact is, I vote mostly Democratic but go to church at LEAST once a week, love target shooting, and at this very moment look pretty much like a younger, rounder version of Hank Hill:



Microtargeting doesn’t accurately reflect the complexities of the human psyche or of American culture, it only captures the complexities of exit polls from the past couple news cycles. We are NOT a 50-50 nation; we could move back to the landslide margins of Reagan and LBJ as quickly as we moved out of them. The concepts of "soccer moms" and "NASCAR dads" are insulting and, quite frankly, useless. Such talk leads to inaccurate stereotypes that pigeonhole people where they don’t belong and then pressures them to stay there. Microtargeting encourages the unnecessary and artificial divisions that have plagued us for the past couple decades. What we need is cultural and social reconciliation, not political distortion.

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