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The Republican-Democrat Divide Extends To Hats And Prepaid Cell Phones

A new report shows that voters' shopping interests diverge along with their politics.

Posted on March 22, 2017, at 4:33 p.m. ET

AP/Wilfredo Lee

The 2016 election showed how America is divided along political lines. Now, using data from 30 of last year's congressional campaigns, one company is figuring out how those divisions can predict the things people want to buy.

Just like how Netflix uses viewing data to predict what you want to watch — if you watched Mad Men, you'll should try Californication — the pattern of ads people click on is often used to guess the kind of ads they're more likely to click on next. That type of predictive marketing can link interest in a product to interest in voting Democrat or Republican, according to advertising technology company Rocket Fuel.

A new Rocket Fuel report found people who've clicked on ads for prepaid cellphones, weddings and dogs are much more likely to click on ads for Democrats. For those leaning Republican, the kind of ads more likely to earn a click included ones for healthcare, religious organizations and hats.

The data gets more complicated once you drill into state-level differences, with significant differences in shopping preferences between Democrats in blue and red states. The same goes for Republicans.

"Political orientation or political party identity isn't necessarily decisive in determining consumer interest," Kenneth Rufo, a lead researcher at Rocket Fuel, told BuzzFeed News. "It might be a case of geography. Among Republicans and Democrats, where they live will have a huge influence on the cluster of attributes that matter." Most significantly, socio-economic status can have a larger influence on what people buy, he said.

Take men's accessories. In red states, people shopping for men's accessories were more inclined — by 103% — to be clicking on ads for Republicans than Democrats. But Democrats in blue states were 37% more likely to have been interested in such ads than Republicans in red states. That gap widens even further for other geographic splits.

Rocket Fuel

Other findings of note: sunglasses and golf were more appealing to Republicans in deep-blue California and swing states than they were for red state Republicans. And soccer was more important to red state Republicans than swing state Democrats.

Rocket Fuel

"The political divide is also a cultural divide," said Rufo. "There are a constellation of consumer interests and attributes that correlate to political engagement."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.