BOULDER, Colo. — Whole Foods vs. Cracker Barrel is how David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report recently framed the 2012 election. Only, that divide leaves out the many Americans who don’t fit in either camp.
What about all those Publix shoppers in Florida? Or the Safeway shoppers in Colorado, where the Feb. 7 caucus could now take on new importance? Couldn’t we just as easily call it Target vs. Walmart? Or
maybe Payless vs. Steve Madden?
Wasserman makes some fine points in using a slice of data showing that President Obama carried 81 percent of counties with a Whole Foods and just 36 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel in 2008.
But look at the swing states of Colorado (where I’ve lived for 18 years) and Iowa (where I grew up). There are four Cracker Barrel restaurants in Colorado, all along the Interstate 25 corridor. Obama won three of the four counties with Cracker Barrels in Colorado.
In Iowa, there are three Cracker Barrels; Obama won two of the three counties. As for Whole Foods, three of Colorado’s 14 stores are located in two counties that voted overwhelmingly for McCain. Iowa, meanwhile, still awaits its first Whole Foods Market, slated to open during this election year.
While Wasserman addresses Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s libertarian tendencies, he fails to mention Cracker Barrel’s history of claims that the company discriminated against blacks and gays. Cracker Barrel agreed to a $2 million settlement in 2006 in connection with sexual and racial harassment allegations and a 2004 settlement for $8.7 million in seven lawsuits, five of which claimed racial.
In reality, Whole Foods vs. Cracker Barrel is just one slice of data in an election year when voters will be identified and targeted based on millions of data points collected from vast stores of survey, census and market research information.
As William Wheeler pointed out in Good magazine, campaigns will be micro-targeting voters with messages tailored to the individual and those data points. The Obama campaign, for instance, has advertised for “data-mining scientists” with doctorates for senior jobs.
The Whole Foods vs. Cracker Barrel argument is easy because there’s not much overlap there.
But in fact, 2012 campaigns will mostly be targeting the middle ground, those who can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods and may still be offended by Cracker Barrel’s history of discrimination. In my home state, that’s the folks who shop at Hy-Vee, the predominant grocery chain in Iowa, or smaller stores such as Fareway.
Plenty of us in Colorado go to Safeway or Costco or even Walmart for groceries, finding “Whole Paycheck” just a little too pretentious in addition to expensive. (And we’re elated about the upcoming arrival of Trader Joe’s.)
During the next weeks — and even more intensely in the fall — campaigns will be looking for those Safeway/Publix shoppers whose ideology isn’t set in stone.
Right now, the focus is on the Republican Party and its search for a candidate in a race that often appears to be catering to the Cracker Barrel crowd. But by summer, the GOP nominee will realize the 2012 election pie is much larger. Certainly, he won’t need to win — or maybe even be able to win — much of the Whole Foods crowd.
But the November winner — either Obama or one of the Republicans — will definitely need to find a way to reach the Safeway and Publix voters at a time when the American middle is increasingly disillusioned with the country’s political elite.
Sandra Fish teaches journalism at the University of Colorado and has reported on politics in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. Follow her on Twitter at @fishnette