The Politics of Pumpkin

Autumn is my favorite season.  Crisp, sunny afternoons spent hiking through golden aspen in my home state of Colorado; the collective watching of college football or baseball playoffs; and breaking out those comfy sweaters for the first time in months.  What’s not to love about a glorious season of color, before snow and darkness invade?

Well, perhaps, one thing has gone wrong with the season according to voters in a new national survey Public Opinion Strategies conducted in early October:  pumpkin spice.  Surely you have noticed the pumpkin spice proliferation besetting our grocery store shelves?  Sales for pumpkin-flavored products, which started so innocently in 2003 with a simple latte concoction dreamed up by Starbucks – has now pullulated into a $361 million flavoring empire (79% increase in sales from 2011 to 2014).  We are experiencing a squash invasion in everything from dog treats to beer to hummus, with a mind-boggling 44,000 different products now available in pumpkin spice flavor.   It has inspired thousands of rants on social media, including this one from John Oliver.

Americans appear to have mixed feelings about this pumpkin spice proliferation.  Nearly three-in-five U.S. voters reject the idea that pumpkin-favored foods and drinks are “one of my favorite things about fall.”  Just over one-third (38%) agree.  Yet, the anti-pumpkin faction is far more intense in their rejection of this trend:  while 17% of Americans strongly agree that they place pumpkin spice on an autumnal pedestal, nearly twice as many – 32% – strongly reject that all things nutmeg and cinnamon are the best part of the season. pumpkin1

The pumpkin-devoted could play a pivotal role come next fall.  A number of key voter sub-groups which will be courted by the 2016 presidential campaigns– women and Latinos in particular – are most likely to say that pumpkin spice is the biggest plus of the season.  The following graph should instill seasonal horror in the Hillary Clinton campaign, given the candidate’s rejection of the label “pumpkin spice latte sort of gal” in a Facebook chat where she told an Iowa voter that “the true answer is I used to be until I saw how many calories are in them.”

pumpkin2
Even with some swing voters’ predilection for pumpkin spice, what the American people can agree on is that enough is enough.  A mere 3% say there are “too few” “pumpkin flavored food and beverage products” now.  The vast majority say they are either satiated (51% about the right number), or that they are drowning in squash, sugar and cinnamon (38% too many products). pumpkin3

The good news is that the glorification of this once humble gourd may be on borrowed time.  Those who feel there are adequate numbers of these products tend to be far older than those who shake their heads in disbelief when the entire Trader Joe’s weekly flyer is dedicated solely to pumpkin flavored products. While fewer than one-third of those 55 and older say there are too many pumpkin spice products, that view goes up to 44% of the youngest voters.  Yes, the Millennials appear poised to move on, leaving their elders mired in orange goop.

pumpkin4

Strikingly, progressives are the most anti-pumpkin, taking a staunch stand as one of the few sub-groups among which those who perceive there to be too many products outnumber those deeming levels to be about right.  Conservatives are the most pleased with the number of pumpkin products.

pumpkin5

While the politics of pumpkin are clearly not as divisive as issues like immigration or Obamacare, prognosticators might want to forget the tea leaves and instead examine the contents of coffee mugs in Columbus and Clearwater next fall.  See you in the Starbucks line!

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