Would you think a person who frequents Arby’s is a conservative? What about Applebee’s? Is a person who buys Grey Poupon likely rich? Is someone who buys Thomas’ English muffins probably white?
The answer to all of the above questions are “yes,” according to an interesting University Of Chicago study covered in The Washington Post this week. The study claims that researcher-developed algorithms can predict a person’s political and social viewpoints—or even their race—depending on what they purchase with up to 90 percent accuracy:
If someone went to Arby’s or Applebee’s or used Jif peanut butter, you might guess they were conservative. If they didn’t own fishing gear or use ranch dressing, but drank alcohol and bought novels? Probably a liberal.
The researchers say that when they graph these preferences against people’s actual beliefs, they pan out. Granted these are generalizations: Under the liberal checkpoints, I definitely drink alcohol and buy novels. But I also like Jif peanut butter and don’t hate ranch dressing, so who can say?
This study also maintains that “consumer behavior is strongly linked to income level.” For example:
In 1992, Grey Poupon mustard predicted income better than any other brand. By 2016, its place as the key signifier of the country’s economic and cultural divide had been taken by Apple’s iPhone.
That certainly helps explain a certain ’80s commercial. And it all makes for a fascinating read over at The Washington Post today.