Motor Voters: What Your Car Says About Your Politics

The type of car you buy could hint at whether you honk for Hillary or brake for Trump. So, here at NetQuote we were curious to learn what your car says about your politics.

Car companies, dealers and advertisers already know plenty about you thanks to your car purhcase. And they’re using this knowledge to shape their own campaigns around the ones politicians are running.

“The strength of a brand is the most important characteristic a motor vehicle has, and certainly also a politician has,” says Michael Bernacchi, marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

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In this election in particular, there’s one candidate who has created a great deal of brand recognition for himself.

“If Donald Trump is anything, he is a brand. So we’re really matching brands to brands there,” he says. “Whenever Trump speaks, he draws crowds. Advertisers have to be ready to connect on that.”

Although Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s brand might not be as defined, there are still cues that advertisers can take when marketing their brand to consumers.

Paul Caldwell, owner/partner with Moore & Scarry Advertising of Fort Myers, Florida, says location and demographics play into marketing decisions.

“From a marketing standpoint, we look at what appeals to someone who would vote for a political candidate. What are their hot points? Those are the things we go after,” says Caldwell, whose firm represents more than 450 auto dealers nationwide.

A recent survey by automotive market research firm Auto Pacific found correlations between potential car buyers and which candidates they support. The survey consisted of about 1,100 consumers planning to buy a new car.

GMC drivers go for Trump, Tesla for Clinton

Among the respondents, 36 percent identified as Independent/Other, 34 percent as Republican, 5 percent as Democrat and 25 percent as Libertarian. Although the survey took place before each party’s frontrunner emerged, there were definite preferences between both Clinton and Trump supporters.

Nearly one-third (31.3 percent) of survey respondents planning to buy a GMC support Trump, while nearly one-third (31 perecent) of respondents considering a Mitsubishi purchase see the Republican candidate as their next president.

Consumers with plans to buy a Scion were also abundant in the Trump camp, with 30.8 percent of that group backing the GOP candidate.

Among Clinton supporters, the cars to buy are Teslas (25.2 percent), Mercedes Benz (24.8 percent) and Infiniti (24.7 percent).

George Peterson, founder and president of Auto Pacific, says he was surprised that Clinton was able to split some traditionally big Republican brands. Cadillac buyers, for example, showed similar support for both Clinton (24 percent) and Trump (25 percent).

“It really did seem that the ones you’d expect, like Cadillac, would tend to be the most conservative,” he says. “Although this year they seem to be split between both Hillary and Trump.”

The popularity of Tesla among both Clinton supporters and Democrats in general also came as a surprise.

“We really didn’t have a reading on Tesla before,” Peterson says. “You could say those are the limousine liberals.”

Toyota appeals to both Democrats and Republicans

Brands like Toyota, however, seemed to have more broad appeal, with 27 percent of the brand’s buyers identifying themselves as Republicans and 29 percent identifying as Democrats.

“They’re a massive brand, so it’s no news here that they would be well-connected to everybody,” Bernacchi says.

One strategy marketers employ is to include lifestyle in their regional advertising.

For example, because Wyoming is mostly Republican, Caldwell says his firm plans to run more ads featuring outdoorsy activities that would appeal to sportsmen. In Colorado, however, lifestyle ads would more likely feature activities involving mountains and hiking.

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“You can guess which political parties go to each,” Caldwell says.

Marketers also incorporate strategic language into their ads when marketing to potential car buyers, says Eric Tigner, new business development manager for JKR Automotive Advertising & Marketing.

“I think most of it comes down to the wording we use,” he says.

For example, a local car dealership might advertise that their deals “Trump the competition” to promote themselves. “You want to make sure your advertising touches on those words,” Tigner says.

Dr. Gary Wilcox, professor of advertising at the University of Texas, says that auto makers don’t want to polarize their buyers, however, and would be unlikely to market during an election season based solely on someone’s candidate preference.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a political thing,” he says. “I think it’s just an opportunity to reach a large number of people at one time.”

That doesn’t change the fact that advertisers have a pretty good idea of who their audience is when it comes to marketing car brands.

“I can drive down the road and say to my wife, ‘That is a Republican. That is a Democrat,’ just by looking at the vehicle,” Caldwell says.