What Richard Mourdock can learn from Chick-fil-A

October 25, 2012

The old saying goes: There's no such thing as bad press.

That's not always the case, of course. And today, Richard Mourdock can probably attest to that fact.

The controversy over Mourdock's comments about rape and pregnancy has forced politicians of all stripes to pick sides and forced Mourdock to either stand by his comments or back down. He chose to stand by them.

What will likely follow is a conservative rallying effect, rivaled by a coinciding campaign against Mourdock on behalf of Democrats. The two sides will be polarized and mobilized, but the much-quieter and less-involved voters in the middle will still decide whether it was a smart stand.

And we've seen this before -- and not only in the political realm. Take Chick-fil-A.

According to the new BrandIndex annual rankings from the consumer perception research firm YouGov, no company has seen a surge in popularity among a particular political persuasion this year like Chick-fil-A has.

The controversy over the restaurant chain's anti-gay marriage stance has served to make it the fourth most-popular brand among Republicans, and its surge in popularity (24.5 points) is about twice as large as any other brand.

(Fun side note: Obama's constant allusions to saving General Motors appear to have upped its stock significantly among Democrats, while Mitt Romney's frequent references to his work with Staples have given it a big GOP bump.)

At the same time, Chick-fil-A's coinciding loss in popularity among Democrats was even greater (about 30 points), and it is now just slightly more popular among Democrats than Fox News Channel -- the favorite GOP brand. Much like Fox News, Chick-fil-A has become severely polarizing; it now ranks as the fourth most-popular brand among Republicans but ranks almost at the very bottom among Democrats (No. 1076 out of about 1,100 brands).

Among independents, the brand's cachet also dropped by a small but significant amount -- about three points. It is still rated the 229th highest out of 1,100 brands.

Chick-fil-A stuck to its guns and went with a base strategy, which greatly polarized the two sides and also pushed independents away to some degree. In other words, the base is happier than ever, but if Chick-fil-A were running for office, it likely would have lost votes over the whole ordeal.

Of course, in business, you don't need to win the support of half of people; you just need to make enough money from those who do support you. With Mourdock, though, every voter has the same amount of currency -- one vote -- and he needs to get about half of those votes.

Which means his brand among independents is what really matters here.

As Chick-fil-A demonstrates, just because the two political parties are getting in a lather over something doesn't necessarily mean that voters in the middle are doing the same. But in a close race, even a little movement in the middle can make the difference between winning and losing.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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