The Pocketbook Activists: One Year Later

 Don Juan Moore—Getty Images

Don Juan Moore—Getty Images

We are a couple months past the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, and we think it’s safe to say that it has been quite the bumpy road so far. It’s hard to say what will happen next month, or next week, or even the next day, and this instability has been ironically consistent since we said goodbye to the Obama White House. It comes as no surprise, then, that we’ve seen many American companies struggle to adapt to a new and unpredictable landscape.

As corporations made the public aware of their support or opposition of President Donald Trump and his policies, whether by design or by accident, it became clear that they would face consequences either way. We saw this often during the beginning of the Trump presidency, between Starbuck’s support of refugees, Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, Uber’s response to the travel ban, and so forth. Even as we began writing this piece, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced they would no longer sell assault-style weapons and raise the gun purchasing age at their stores to 21 (including their Field and Stream stores), to much praise and scorn. Walmart was soon to follow, saying that they, too, would be raising the minimum age for purchasing to 21 and removing items resembling assault weapons from their website. It is too early to tell how these actions will influence sales at companies that are truly mammoth, like Walmart, but so far the positive seems to outweigh the negative.

Back in March of last year, we decided to look at how the new political landscape was impacting consumer behavior, and the results were pretty astonishing. One of the biggest takeaways from our initial study was a confirmation that partisan views have practically created two separate realities based solely on which party inhabits the White House. For example, Clinton voters who were originally feeling positive about the state of their own personal economy changed their mind after Trump was elected, while Trump voters went from feeling negative about their personal economy to extremely positive.

The election did not just change how people view their own personal economy, however. Indeed, we noticed that changes in consumer behavior dramatically shifted. Back in March of 2017, 1 in 5 Americans reported that they had changed their spending habits since the November 2016 election. In our June survey of last year, that number jumped 8 points; meaning that five months after our 45th President took office, more than one quarter of Americans reported changing their consumer behavior. It was truly astounding.

Within this group of Americans who said they changed their consumer behavior, we discovered a group we call the Pocketbook Activists. These are Americans who are consciously shifting their spending habits based on the public stance companies have made in regard to the Trump Administration. As we discussed in our previous reports, these are not just people on the left end of the ideological spectrum taking a stand against the policies of the President. While these people are certainly a part of it, we also see people from the ideological center and far right shifting their behavior.

In March of 2017, this cohort represented $1.6 trillion in spending power. In June, the number of Pocketbook Activists jumped 5 points and added $600 billion to the spending power level. As we said earlier, even if these consumers shift just a few percent of their spending habits, companies are going to notice.

We are now reaching the one-year mark since we first gauged the opinions of these Americans. So now, in March of 2018, is this trend still on the rise? This month, we return to our Pocketbook Activists and see if consumer behavior is still changing based on the political atmosphere of the day.

OVERALL SHIFTS IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOR

When it comes to those who have altered their behavior, we were surprised to find this group showed no signs of slowing down. In March of 2017, 1 in 5 Americans said they changed their spending habits after the 2016 election, and in June of that year, that number grew to 27% of Americans. Since June, this number has stayed consistent over all with the same number of Americans (27%) reporting they have changed their spending habits since the November 2016 election.

Not much has changed since June when it comes to who is driving this trend; liberals, men and women under the age of 45, Clinton voters, and Democrats are leading the charge. People under 55, Republicans, and women in general are also changing their habits more than the average American, while Trump voters, those 65 and older, Independents, and non-voters are lower than average.

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After seeing our June results, we noticed a clear pattern when it came to ethnicity. Groups with higher rates of changing consumer behavior than the average were Hispanic women (30%), Asian Americans (32%), Black men (36%), and women of color broadly (31%). And while the numbers among these groups have dropped since June, these spending changes continue to be driven by immigrants (41%), people of color, and younger Americans. While conservatives rank higher than the average, liberals are reporting these changes in much higher numbers.

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THE POCKETBOOK ACTIVISTS

In March of 2017, we looked at this group of economic changers and found two groups that we view as having the potential to change economic patterns in a real and meaningful way: Pocketbook Activists and New Reality Donors. For the remainder of this piece, we will focus on the Pocketbook Activists - Americans who are either moving their purchasing power from one company to another, or are shifting money that would have gone to one company to donating it to a non-profit instead. Overall, the concentration of these actions has remained relatively steady since last year. About half (46%) of those who report changing their economic behavior moved spending between companies, which is similar to March and June, when it was 46% and 50%, respectively. One-third say they moved spending from a company to a non-profit, which is slightly lower than June (38%) and March (36%). With these two measurements combined, we find that Pocketbook Activists make up 15% of Americans as a whole.

Looking at certain demographic groups that we previously flagged as having higher concentrations of Americans shifting their spending habits, we see that some groups have made a comeback since June while others have stayed relatively the same. In particular, Republican women and conservative women, along with Americans making more than $100,000 annually, have all seen increases in activity since dropping to lower numbers in June. Liberal women, women in general, Hispanic, and Black Americans are also shifting their spending from one company to another at higher rates than the average American. And while they certainly have made gains

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When it comes to shifting spending from one company to another, not many groups saw significant changes from June to now; however, there have been significant decreases among Hispanic women (49% to 35%), men over 65 (55% to 28%), and non-voters (65% to 19%). Black men also saw a pretty significant decrease (69% to 52%), but are still one of the groups driving this type of change in consumer behavior.

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With all this being said, being a Pocketbook Activist isn’t a one-way street; there are basically two different directions these consumer behavioral changes can take. You can either a) move your money away from a company that doesn’t align with your values, or b) move your money toward a company because it does align with your values. Just as we did in March and June, we asked all of respondents which they were more likely to do.

Below you’ll see two graphs: one for June, and one for our current results. What we found interesting this time around was that Americans who are making these spending habit changes are now becoming less likely to take positive action (supporting a company that aligns with their values) and more likely to either take negative action (moving money away from a company because it doesn’t align with your values) or a mix of both. This shift is apparent with Pocketbook Activist women (40% more likely to take positive action in June vs. 24% who say the same this month).

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Looking at demographic splits, men are more likely than women to take positive action, while those making under $100,000 are more likely than those making more than $100,000 are likely to take positive action. While men and women who are Pocketbook Activists are just as likely to take positive action, Pocketbook Activist men are more likely to do both equally than Pocketbook Activist women (40% to 34%). Additionally, Pocketbook Activists making more than $100,000 are more likely to take negative action than Pocketbook Activists who make less than $100,000 annually (35% to 27%).

IMPLICATIONS

We have argued for over a year that the Pocketbook Activists are a force to be reckoned with, and that hasn’t changed as we get closer to the 2018 midterms. As we have said before, this group will surely be paying attention as more companies are either forced into or are choosing to be in the political spotlight. With a political climate that shows no signs of slowing down in terms of instability, we are bound to continue dealing with this trend.

It’s been one year, but it will still take some time to fully understand the effects of these behaviors and how meaningful they are to corporate bottom lines. However, we are now truly starting to see definitive trends with who is spending their money where and with what mindset they’re deciding how to spend.

This is a movement that is here to stay. Based on our data over the last year, we know for sure that:

  1. This is not a partisan movement, although liberals and Republican women seem to be leading the charge.
  2. This is a movement being driven by young people, mostly under the age of 45. This is also true for women and people of color.

It will be interesting to see in our next survey how, or if, these numbers have changed with the recent stories on attempts to cut ties with companies that are viewed as supporting the NRA and guns. Between calls to boycott Apple and Amazon – arguably two of the largest American companies to ever exist – over their ties to the NRA, the mammoth reaction to Dick’s Sporting Goods’ and Walmart’s announcements to end certain gun sales and raise age minimums, and the Lt. Governor of Georgia trying to oust Delta over severing ties with the NRA, we are reminded that this movement will not end as companies become more and more pulled into partisan battles. Most companies have been aware of the initiatives they are involved in and with what causes they align their company’s values to, but the unpredictability of the White House makes it more difficult terrain these days. What should be keeping CEO’s up at night is the unknown of what could or could not pull their company into the cross hairs of the Pocket Book Activists.