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Politics Seems to Be Everywhere — Including Brands

What brands say about your politics.

Many an emergency manager has told me that they would not touch working at King County, Wash., as emergency manager. Hey, I survived 11 years in the job and left on my own terms. People in our business generally try to avoid politics since they don’t want to get burned by getting involved.

It is true that as emergency managers we need to be apolitical (sometimes I say “nondenominational”) so as to be able to work with anyone in government or the community. However, it is good to be aware of the enhanced and sometimes visceral aspect of politics that swirl around us these days.

Here is an item that came to my inbox that highlights how politics have crept into which brands people pursue or perhaps shun. Yes, politics are everywhere these days!

“The political divide in America is evident everywhere you look, from the news media to social media. But do people’s politics extend to their brand and consumer preferences? A new study says, 'yes.'”

The study, published in the current edition of the INFORMS journal Marketing Science is called “Polarized America: From Political Polarization to Preference Polarization.” It is authored by researchers from ESADE, Universitat Ramon Llull in Barcelona, Spain; Bocconi University in Milan, Italy; Columbia Business School; and the University of Mannheim in Manheim, Germany.

“Political orientation has been shown to extend to many different aspects of life,” said the paper’s authors. “These include a person’s social identity and personality. Previous research has proven that conservatives and liberals exhibit different patterns in day-to-day behaviors such as grocery shopping, movie choices, recycling, charity choices, lifestyle choices, and even how they handle complaints and disputes.”

This new research has found that political polarization extends further into the lives of consumers. The researchers found that there is increased polarization in preferences, behavioral intentions, and actual purchase decisions for consumer brands. Following the election to the presidency of Donald Trump in 2016, there was a stronger increase in polarization among liberals as compared to conservatives. This was driven by their demand for “democratic brands” to further emphasize their political stand.

“We also found that after 2016, certain brands themselves took a political stance after they observed a shift in their customer base in terms of their political affiliations,” said the researchers.

To conduct their research, the study authors used three different data sets: publicly available social media data of over 3 million brand followerships of Twitter users; a YouGov brand-preference tracking survey data set; and Nielson scanner panel data including millions of grocery product purchases. They used this data to assess the evolution of brand-preference polarization.

“Across these three data sets, representing different modes of behavior, we found consistent evidence for brand-preference polarization after the 2016 election,” said the study authors. “Members of the politically threatened group, the liberals, took compensatory actions such as following certain brands they perceived identified as more liberal.”

To illustrate their findings, the researchers pointed out that on Twitter after the 2016 election, the media brands of The New Yorker and The Atlantic became even more Democratic, while Fox News and Fox Business News became even more Republican as defined by the make-up of their followers. Brands that took a political stand, like Nike and Nordstrom, then saw a significant shift in the political affiliation of their Twitter follower base.

The authors made a publicly available website to explore and depict the political affiliation of more than 1,000 brands and organizations based on their Twitter dataset."

Check out what your “brands” say about your politics!
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.