Thursday, February 27, 2020

Last Call For The New Retail Politics

Writing in the NY Times Upshot, Cook Political Report House guru Dave Wasserman suggests that while dominating in voting precincts where there are Whole Foods and Apple Stores, Democrats must find a way to do better in precincts with Cracker Barrels and Bass Pro Shops if they stand any chance at beating Trump and taking back the Senate.

To quantify the relationship between retail locations and voting, we analyzed retail and precinct-level election data compiled for this article by the U.C.L.A. postdoctoral research fellow Ryne Rohla and Grant Gregory, a pollster for Breakthrough Campaigns.

After examining the voting patterns surrounding over 100 popular American chains, we zeroed in on eight national brands — each with retail locations in over 40 states — that proved useful predictors.

Of the eight brands, the four correlated with Democratic vote growth were the Amazon-owned organic mecca Whole Foods Market; the Canadian-based yoga and “athleisure” apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica; the hipster fashion magnet Urban Outfitters; and the glassy, minimalist Apple Store. Let’s call these “upmarket” brands.

The four brands correlated with recent Republican gains were the Southern-themed Cracker Barrel Old Country Store; the booming rural lifestyle chain Tractor Supply Company; the arts-and-crafts giant Hobby Lobby; and the outdoor recreation hub Bass Pro Shops. We’ll call these “down-home” brands.

Next, we divided the country’s electorate — based on the proximity of these stores to the geometric centers of America’s more than 169,000 voting precincts — into three groups:

  • Upmarket bubbles: voters living less than five miles from a current Whole Foods, Lululemon, Apple Store or Urban Outfitters location (34 percent of the electorate in 2016).
  • Down-home zones: voters living less than 10 miles from a current Cracker Barrel, Tractor Supply, Bass Pro Shop or Hobby Lobby location (these stores tend to be in less densely populated areas) — but more than five miles from the nearest “upmarket” retail location (50 percent of the electorate in 2016). 
  • Chain-sparse communities: voters who don’t live close enough to any of these retail stores to fall into either category (16 percent of the electorate in 2016).

The good news for Democrats: Over the past few election cycles, they’ve gained a lot of ground among voters in upmarket bubbles. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried them by 31 percentage points, up from Barack Obama’s 26-point margin in 2012. And among the 4 percent of voters within one mile of a current Whole Foods/Lululemon/Urban Outfitters/Apple Store location, Mrs. Clinton won by 45 points, up from Mr. Obama’s 36-point margin in 2012.
This retail realignment was also on display in the 2018 midterms: Of the 43 districts Democrats wrested from G.O.P. control to take back the House, 65 percent contained a Whole Foods Market, compared with 38 percent of all districts that elected a Republican. And both states where Senate Democrats scored gains — Arizona and Nevada — have upmarket numbers above the national average. 

But the challenge for Democrats is that relatively few voters, especially in Electoral College battleground states, live in these upmarket bubbles.

Indeed, in the "Down-Home" and "Chain-Sparse" precincts in 2016, Democrats were destroyed.  Half the country lives in Down-Home areas, and Dems lost those precincts by 10 points in 2016, whereas they ended up losing by only 2 in 2008.  It got even worse in the Chain-Sparse areas, where Dems' six point loss in 2008 turned into a 22-point massacre in 2016.

And like it or not, Down-Home and Chain-Sparse areas of the country make up two-thirds of all voters nationwide.

All the Dems in the 2020 race seem to think their message is the best one to reach these voters.

Having lived in Down-Home areas in the country for 95% of my life, I can tell you nearly all of them are wrong in that assumption.

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