Does your lifestyle determine how you vote?
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NEW YORK -- Worried about the economy? Up in arms over abortion? Concerned about Iraq?
Those issues are one way to figure out how you'll vote in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, but here's another way.
What kind of soda do you drink? What's your favorite TV show? What brand of car do you drive?
A new book, "Applebee's America," contends that your lifestyle -- what's in your refrigerator or your garage -- says as much about your politics as your position on gay marriage or whether you live in a red or blue state.
And if politicians want to succeed, the book says, they would do well to follow the example of successful businesses like Applebee's or Starbucks, which have connected with consumers not just because of the product they are selling, but because of the values and lifestyle they represent.
"Before you get to some issue or discussion about your product, you have to establish some gut-value connection with people. It's, 'How can we convey a sense of values that taps into what people care about,' as opposed to, 'Buy this for $13.95,'"said "Applebee's America" co-author Matthew J. Dowd, who was a strategist for President Bush's White House campaigns.
Once you establish a brand, Mr. Dowd adds, whether in business or politics, "you have to constantly tend to, preserve and understand the connection people have with your brand." When voters lose faith in a political party, he says, it means "they've lost their connection with the brand."
Dowd and his co-authors, Douglas Sosnik, a strategist in the Clinton White House, and Ron Fournier, a former political writer for The Associated Press, see their book as offering a roadmap for success whether you are selling a product, a concept or a candidate.
Dowd, who now consults for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, says that just as Americans are polarized on many issues, "there are also polarized product choices. ... People's product choices are becoming more and more like value choices. It's not, 'I like this water, the way it tastes.' It's 'I feel like this car, or this show, is more reflective of who I am.' More and more people make those choices based on a value."
For example, he says, buying a hybrid car is not just a way to save money on gas, it's also a statement from consumers about "what they want said about the environment."
The idea that votes can be predicted on the basis of tastes and habits predates the notion that the country is divided into red states that favor Republicans and blue states that favor Democrats.
The authors note that in the 1992 presidential election, "a voter who played tennis and watched 'ER' was pegged by President Clinton's team as a supporter of his Republican opponent, Bob Dole. Another who watched basketball and public television was considered a Democrat."
Mr. Bush's re-election team, according to the book, determined that Porsche owners tend to be Republican while Volvo drivers tilt Democratic. Jaguar drivers were considered most likely to vote, and Hyundai drivers least likely.
But reaching voters based on the type of car they drive isn't easy. Reaching them via their favorite TV show or radio station, however, is easily done through targeted ad buys.
According to "Applebee's America," a Bush consultant determined that "country music stations, long thought to have solidly Republican audiences, drew nearly as many Democratic as GOP voters," and while "The Simpsons" show was popular with Republican men, "Gilmore Girls" was popular among GOP women.
First Published October 28, 2006 12:00 am