The politics of choosing what to drive

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Although many people may not always be aware of how far their prejudices and beliefs influence their decision-making, there’s a practical reality that tends to shine through the statistics. Individually, trends may not be obvious. But when you scale up to larger numbers of people, you can see how far the group-think operates. If we wanted to insult people, we could keep things very simple and accuse liberals of being in love with their Volvos while the rednecks sleep in their pickup trucks. Not that this is directly relevant but, around the world, there are more pickup trucks sold than any other model. It just goes to show how many people work for themselves or need access to volume carriers. Anyway, Polk & Co have produced a map that overlays vehicle ownership on to voting districts. The results are quite surprising.

What factors are important?

One of the features of the American economy people depend on is the level of unemployment. When it’s low and people are confident they can find work, people feel free to buy whatever they want. But when jobs are scarce, people begin to think about whether to support local manufacturers.

America has been through a period of outsourcing production to cheaper labor economies. Many conservatives now want to support local producers and both keep the local factories going and hopefully bring work back to America. Not surprisingly, this patriotic solidarity shows up in the strongly conservative states. Following the bailout, up to 74% of vehicle purchases are “local”. In the blue states where there’s more support for the principle of unionization, there’s less support in some states for local producers. Liberals are more likely to own “foreign” cars, giving them 60% of the market. This pattern holds good in thirty-six of the states surveyed.

What about the political geography?

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There are three states considered purple, i.e. they traditionally split the vote. They strongly prefer locally-produced vehicles. Then we need to distinguish Democrats into the liberals who are more likely to buy foreign and the card-carrying union members. In Michigan and Wisconsin which have a high percentage of people employed in motor manufacturing and the components industries, it’s dangerous to be seen in a foreign vehicle once you cross state lines. Buying local is deep in the bone. When you begin lining up the blue states, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Pennsylvania have the highest percentages of locally produced cars, beating out the conservative states.

Put another way, it means centrist voters from both parties are more likely to buy foreign. When you put the word moderate in front of political persuasion, patriotism takes a back seat and people feel free to exercise a free choice in the markets. In some ways, this represents a triumph of common sense given the acquisition of Chrysler by Fiat — the Italians own almost 70% of the American company. So even though there are local jobs in Detroit and elsewhere, the management is not American. This confuses choice when the state has no actual jobs at stake.

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