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Survey finds that political consumerism is not widespread

Barry McNamara
12/19/2019
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Although political polarization in the United States is running high, a survey by a Monmouth College class found that people are affected less by politics when it comes to making purchases.

Economics, rather than politics, drives most consumers’ choices.

During the College’s recently concluded fall semester, students in professor Andre Audette’s “Political Psychology” course received 1,205 responses from individuals in all 50 states to their 10-minute survey on political consumerism. Audette defines political consumerism as “whether people are more willing to shop at stores that express political values like their own and whether people are willing to pay more to engage in this type of behavior.”

“What we found with today’s consumers is that, for the most part, people are looking for the best deal,” said Audette, who directed the study. “If the deals are comparable, they might practice political consumerism, but our findings showed they’re not willing to pay that much more.”

“In a time when it seems that political polarization has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, it was great to see through our project that at least the majority of Americans don’t let the fiery rhetoric in Washington affect their day-to-day lives,” said one of Audette’s students, Emma Hildebrand ’21 of Mendon, Ill. “I honestly wasn’t too surprised. As a political science major, politics are on my mind 24/7, but for most people, that’s just not the case.”

Audette’s students came up with the topic and designed the survey. Although the students found that political consumerism does not register at a high level, when they broke down responses by party affiliation, they learned that Democrats are most likely to engage in that type of behavior.

“We didn’t come up with a conclusive reason for why that was, but we did have a couple theories,” said Audette. “One is that since Democrats aren’t in power with the presidency or in the United States Senate, maybe this is their way to engage in politics. The other is that Democrats are generally younger and more female, and our findings showed that women were more likely to engage in political consumerism.”

Although the term “political consumerism” only became popular in this century, Audette said the practice has “been around forever.”

“There are lots of examples of it historically, such as people not supporting businesses that used sweatshop labor,” said Audette.

Recent examples of political consumerism cited by Audette include boycotts of Nike after the company supported Colin Kaepernick, and of Chick-Fil-A because of the fast-food restaurant’s support of anti-gay marriage organizations.

Cutting-edge research

This was the third such survey that Audette’s classes have run. The first examined support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – also known as DACA – program. The second survey looked at social media in politics and people’s opinions on political scandals.

“This survey, in particular, was a nice example of students gaining hands-on research experience and creating new knowledge for the field of political psychology,” said Audette. “There hasn’t been much research done on political consumerism, so this was a cutting-edge experience for the students.”

Audette said there is also the potential for publishing the students’ findings in an academic journal.

Hildebrand said those findings were encouraging to her.

“This project definitely shined a light on the fact that our country’s foundation is built with room for polarization and disagreement,” said Hildebrand. “I think that in the long run, we will see a positive trend of America coming back together again.”