In politics, you are where you eat


If it’s a Sunday, it means Chick-fil-A stores all across America are closed. Patrons wait till Monday to get their spicy chicken sandwiches; for others recently, stopping by was a vote against gay marriage or for free speech, or both.

Most know the story by now: The company president voices his support for the “biblical definition of the family unit”; protests and calls for a boycott ensue; a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day brings in record profits.

But how does a business make money after being attacked? The answer lies in the partisanship of fast-food consumers.

Using more than 200,000 interviews of American adults conducted each year by Scarborough Research, analysts will search for clues on what TV shows voters of all stripes watch, what cars they buy, and so on. The results show the partisan differences in consumer purchasing behavior. And when it comes to fast food, all Americans love their chicken; they just eat at different restaurants.

Where Americans eat and how they vote: Follow the bubbles

Each bubble in this chart represents an American chain restaurant (in one case, a store). The relative bubble sizes are based on the percentage of American adults surveyed by Scarborough Research who reported patronizing a particular outlet in the previous 30 days. About 42 percent of respondents, for example, reported going to McDonald’s, and just 2 percent to Hooters. About 11 percent said they’d eaten at Chick-fil-A. The bubbles were placed on the chart according to what those surveyed reported to be their political leanings and their likelihood of voting. Thus, a chain with a clientele that is both heavily Republican and likely to vote would be placed in the upper right, whereas a chain whose clientele skewed both Democratic and unlikely to vote would end up on the lower left.

So what can we glean? Chick-fil-A’s customers are among the most Republican in the country, but they’re less likely to vote than Cracker Barrel diners. Well-to-do urban Democrats are buying takeout and groceries at Whole Foods, and they vote. Socioeconomic status, urbanism and regional geography shape the partisanship and voting behavior of restaurant customers. High-turnout voters of both parties are more likely to be found at sit-down chains, where they can afford the higher tabs. See what else you notice: