Starbucks Versus Chick-fil-A

So you wait in a line to spent $3 to buy coffee with a mermaid on the cup, or you like fried chicken on a toasted buttered bun with pickle chips. So what? What does it have to do with your politics? Probably more than you think.

Sunday on Meet The Press, host Chuck Todd led a segment on the differences between Starbucks and Chick-fil-A America. The key point being that when you compare the 2014 senate battleground states (Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia ) to the 2012 presidential battlegrounds (Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida and Nevada) you can see they are made up of very different kinds of communities.

The 2012 states had a lot more big cities and big suburbs in them – the kind of places that are chock full of Starbucks. In 2014, the senate battlegrounds are much more exurban and rural, they are a Chick-fil-A country.

The American Communities Project at the American University School of Public Affairs helped put together the community-based analysis for Meet the Press that showed only 21% of the battleground population is in Democrat-leaning the Big Cities or Urban Suburbs in 2014, while 36% are in the GOP-leaning Exurbs, Evangelical Hubs, Working Class Country and Military Posts.

You can see how those communities are distributed throughout the country on the map below. Mouse over the map to see the community labels.

So how do those communities match with the Starbucks and Chick-fil-A brands? Pretty tidily.

To compare, we looked at how many people in the various communities frequently dine at Chick-fil-A in a month and how many people frequently get a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Because coffee is cheaper and purchasing brewed coffee is usually more common than dining out, we used slightly different measures (3-5 visits to Chick-fil-A versus 6-9 visits to Starbucks) from the firm Experian Marketing Services. Experian uses index scores that compare numbers to an average – any figure over 100 means a behavior is more common than average, while any score under 100 means it is less common.

The Big Cities and Urban Suburbs score highest for Starbucks and below average for Chick-fil-A. Among Republican-leaning communities only the Exurbs score average on Starbucks, and still below the Big Cities and Urban Burbs, the Starbucks champs. And all the GOP-leaning communities score above average for Chick-fil-A.

Why does that matter? Because it helps show how deeply the red/blue divide cuts through the country. Increasingly Americans not only have different political beliefs, we really do live in different worlds. Niche marketing and self-sorting have created Republican and Democratic brands and stores and that makes it harder for us to relate to one another.

The American Communities Project believes the splits in the country are more complicated than simple red and blue. Socio-economics, education and local culture all play a role in how different places see and experience politics.

But increasingly our communities are also defined by consumer options and choices that define us and push us in with a like-minded crowd — waiting for our lattes or our waffle fries.

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