The Washington Post

Valentine’s Special: What your candy says about your politics

Graphic courtesy Jennifer Dube and Will Feltus, National Media Research, Planning and Placement LLC. Click the image for a larger version

Editor’s note: Will Feltus and Mike Shannon are the advertising experts behind several of our previous looks at correlations between consumer habits and politics. Make sure to check out earlier stories on beer and politics and the red/blue divide in television viewing habits.

Americans prefer chocolate over flowers for Valentine’s Day.

At least, that’s what a recently released national survey of Americans showed. The poll was conducted by the National Confectioners Association (NCA), the D.C.-based trade association of candymakers.

The NCA’s use of campaign-style polling to trumpet its members’ products is smart marketing and sweet politics. With Valentine’s Day candy sales expected to top $1 billion, there is a lot at stake.

This got us thinking about the politics of candy.

Over the years, we’ve examined the partisan differences in consumer categories like cars (Democrats prefer Subaru), beer (Republicans drink Sam Adams), sports (Democrats love the NBA) and fast food (Republicans like their Cracker Barrel).

If you’re buying candy for your sweethearts this week, it’s worth considering what it might mean about your — or their — politics. There’s a lot at stake, after all.

To help you out, we’ve analyzed MRI data, which includes 50,000 interviews with American adults, to determine the politics of candy consumers, as shown in the above bubble chart.

What does it all mean?

At first glance, not a lot. Compared to other categories we’ve investigated, candy doesn’t produce the obvious “I knew it” connections to partisanship.  This is likely because candy brands aren’t sold or seen as an expression of values, like say a car (hybrid) or a fast-food chain (Chick-Fil-a) are.

There are some partisan differences, however. Democrats tend to prefer their candy be filled with extras like almonds, raisins and rice.  Republicans, on the other hand, are more likely to favor peanuts, creamy fillings and darker chocolate.

Does this GOP dark chocolate thing have anything to do with the Republican preference for dark liquors like bourbon and scotch? Why are low turnout Democrats more likely to be seen with Nerds and Airheads?  Could Butterfingers, 3 Musketeers and Reese’s Pieces be the sweet solutions to bridging the country’s bitter partisan divide?

One brand that seems to have something for everyone is M&Ms.  The beloved candy’s variations occupy spots on the left, right and center of the chart.  Maybe that is why M&M’s are kept in sterling silver bowls around the Obama White House or why every commander-in-chief since Ronald Reagan has doled out M&M boxes adorned with the presidential seal.

The politics of a candy brand can be fleeting. Reagan also loved Jelly Bellies and would pass bowls of the little-known gourmet jelly beans around at Cabinet meetings. That set off a buying craze among Republicans across the country. But now the Gipper’s favorite sweet, like his home state of California, is firmly in Democratic territory.

Of course, at the end of the day, what kind of candy people eat probably doesn’t say much about them. Maybe, it’s how they eat it.  As President Reagan said, “You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans.”

Will Feltus (@WillFeltus) is the Senior Vice President for research and planning at National Media in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mike Shannon (@mikepshannon) is a partner at the management consulting firm Vianovo in Austin, Texas.

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