Enough Already With Political Categories Like "White Women"

Where you live, how you vote.
Oct. 14 2008 9:05 AM

Enough Already With Political Categories Like "White Women"

Let's get something straight. There is no "women's vote." Women vote, of course. But

Advertisement

of white women as if it has meaning. It doesn't. Elections aren't about demography. They are about ways of life.



Marketing people have known that large demographic categories like "white women" are meaningless since at least 1973, when a New York adman asked in the

Journal of Advertising

, "Are Grace Slick and Tricia Nixon Cox the same person?" Both were white, young, urban, rich, former Finch College alums and women. Conventional market research in the early 1970s would have plugged in all this demographic data and concluded that, yes, the blond-haired daughter of the president and the lead singer for the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane and author of the acid anthem "White Rabbit" were the same.



/blogs/bigsort/2008/10/14/enough_already_with_political_categories_like_white_women/jcr:content/body/slate_image

All of which made conventional market analysis meaningless, wrote John E. O'Toole, president of Foote, Cone & Belding Communications. It was so obvious the two had nothing in common that you didn't even need to go ask Alice. Tricia Nixon married a Republican White House aide on the White House lawn. The one time Slick was invited to the White House (a reception for Tricia's Finch classmates), she brought along her "bodyguard," Yippie founder and Chicago Seven defendant Abbie Hoffman. The two said they intended to spike the iced tea with LSD. The Secret Service didn't let them past the front door.



/blogs/bigsort/2008/10/14/enough_already_with_political_categories_like_white_women/jcr:content/body/slate_image0

O'Toole wrote in '73 that statistics on income, age, and education—all the demographic "facts" we still use to divine presidential elections in 2008—had lost relevance because there had been a "Revolution of the Individual." People weren't living according to class or education or age. They were "forming liberation groups: black, feminist, gay, consumer, anything." Marketers had snoozed through the revolution and insulted people by discounting "their intelligence in favor of some vast common denominator."



People didn't define themselves by demographic markers, O'Toole wrote. They lived in groups "united by common attitudes or lifestyles or perceptions of themselves."



Marketing people long ago abandoned most of the demographic data that we still use to talk about politics. I talked with Chris Riley, a Portland, Ore., marketing guy who has worked for both Nike and Apple. Riley said people were forming communities of interest that had nothing to do with categories such as single, white, college-educated women. "I'm not allowed to use market research information, by dictate of (Apple founder) Steve Jobs," Riley said. "They don't trust it."



They don't trust it because demography—classifications such as a favorite from the Democratic primary, the "white working class"—doesn't get at how people live. "There is no (demographic) category for somebody who shapes his entire life around his concern for the environment," Riley explained.



After all, how many white, single women describe themselves that way. A San Diego woman told me recently that she was an "ocean oriented person." That's a more accurate political description in 2008.



/blogs/bigsort/2008/10/14/enough_already_with_political_categories_like_white_women/jcr:content/body/slate_image1

Young ministers in the 1970s began designing churches for what one marketer called "image tribes." They created the modern American megachurch by catering to ways of life, not demographic types. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church wears flowered shirts in part because his "target" audience, "Saddleback Sam," "prefers the casual and informal over the formal." Megachurches tailor their services to lifestyles. One California megachurch advertises different lifestyle venues for its Sunday morning service—a "Country Gospel" hoedown, a gathering known as "The Edge" (with Starbucks coffee and Mountain Dew), and a "Traditions" hall with music from a baby grand piano.



The Bush campaign in 2004 was the first to catch up with marketing techniques that had been refined over the past three decades. Bush identified individuals by how they lived—the cars they drove, magazines they read, television shows they watched, ring tones they downloaded.



John O'Toole in 1973 told marketers they misunderstood society by continuing to "shout at a crowd rather than talk to persons." Bush's campaign was the first to run a campaign aimed at individuals rather than crowds.



Barack Obama has essentially copied the Bush approach, identifying the "image tribes" we travel in rather than the bleak and only occasionally meaningful demographic categories that appear in exit polls and are coughed up in stories about politics.



So why do women seem to like Obama more than men? (Pew had women favoring Obama 54 percent to 37 percent at the end of September, while men backed McCain 47 percent to 43 percent.) We'll take that up tomorrow, and also answer the eternal happy hour question "Where are all the good men?"

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.