You might be a conservative if…you prefer Wal-Mart to Trader Joe’s?
Please feel free to join us in disbelief at this post title. How can this be? New research just released says, according to Pacific-Standard, Wal-Mart could expect more business from conservatives than from liberals. And why? Because conservatives prefer brand name products. Apparently, it isn’t about whether you prefer the clientele at one store or the other. Nor whether you think one of the stores is cleaner than the other. No. Just whether you are liberal or conservative. Hmmm.
Somehow this sort of statement seems like the old (and wrong) ideas that women jurors are always good for plaintiffs or Lutherans are prone to convict. So we had to take a closer look. For a start, we go to the actual research article rather than the main stream media publication where we found this headline about Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s.
The researchers gathered data from a “comprehensive scanner database that tracks weekly store sales of thousands of products”. Data were “obtained from 1,860 stores belonging to 135 supermarket chains and spanned a period of 6 years (2001-2006)”. Based on traditional dictionary definitions of conservatives as preferring the status quo and resisting change, the researchers expected conservatives to prefer name brand and existing products to either generic or newly released products. They used county-level Republican voting patterns and county-level data on religiosity (e.g., either being a member of a congregation or a non-member who attends services regularly) to identify conservatism in the various geographic areas data had been collected. The researchers indicate that the “correlations suggest that both Republican voting and religiosity capture aspects of conservative values, independently of each other”.
And what they found is indeed odd. In counties that were higher in conservatism (based on proportion of Republican voting patterns and religious attendance/adherence), more name brands and existing brands were purchased.
“Our empirical results, based on extensive field data, provide strong evidence that more conservative ideology is associated with higher reliance on established national brands (as opposed to generics) and a slower uptake of new products. These tendencies are consistent with traits typically associated with conservatism, such as aversion to risk, skepticism about new experiences, and a general preference for tradition, convention, and the status quo.”
There is, however, nothing in the article itself comparing Wal-Mart to Trader Joe’s and store preferences of liberal versus conservative shoppers. This is why it’s important to go to the actual article rather than accepting the popular media headline. It’s also why we only write about articles we actually see ourselves rather than giving you information about them based on second-hand sources. You just never know when what you are seeing in the popular media is accurate and when it is not. Consider the now infamous example of Jonah Lehrer.
In terms of litigation advocacy, we will say a few things. This study does not say that a good voir dire question for identifying conservatism would be “Do you prefer Wal-Mart or Trader Joe’s?”. However, knowing how religiously observant a potential juror is or whether they vote Republican could well be good screeners of conservatism, which may or may not be relevant to your case. Both of these are much less flashy than the Wal-Mart vs Trader Joe question. But they are likely much more substantive when it comes to actual results.
Khan R, Misra K, & Singh V (2013). Ideology and Brand Consumption. Psychological Science PMID: 23381562