Pocketbook Activists & the 2018 Midterms

Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Today, it is time for us to head to our polling locations and cast our ballots for the 2018 Midterm Elections. Two years ago, the Electoral College elected Donald Trump to be the 45th President of the United States, and we are about to find out if the nation approves of this President or wants to elect representatives that will serve as a check to his policies. Back in March, we wrote, “it’s safe to say that it has been quite the bumpy road so far.” Looking back on that statement, it seems that this may have been the understatement of the year.

Back in March of 2017, we began analyzing the new political landscape emerging from the 2016 Election and how it was impacting not only public opinion, but also consumer behavior. The results surprised us, and they continue to surprise us a year and a half later. 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 basically the day after Trump was elected, while Trump voters went from feeling negative about their personal economy to extremely positive in the same short time period

The election did not just change how people view their own personal economy. 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. And, 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 response to the Trump Administration (whether it be positive or negative).

In March of this year, we revisited the Pocketbook Activists to check on the status of their movement, and we found that this group is truly a force to be reckoned with. Based on that data, we know that Pocketbook Activists are not a one sided partisan movement, and this trend is being driven by young people, women, and people of color. We were interested in seeing how these numbers changed leading up to this year’s election, and many more public figures and companies have taken a stance since March – Colin Kaepernick and Nike, Ford, Levi’s, and the NRA, just to name a few.

So, with just hours left before the end of what some are calling the most high-stakes election in recent cycles, how are the Pocketbook Activists responding to the current political environment? Has the movement slowed, or continued to grow and expand as more companies attempt to navigate their moral high ground? And, more importantly, do we think the Pocketbook Activists will have a significant impact on this election?


When it comes to those who have altered their behavior, we were surprised to find this group has grown since we last checked in on them. In March of 2017 one in five Americans said they changed their spending habits after the 2016 election, and in June of that year, that number grew to 27% of Americans. That number stayed consistent into March of 2018 (27%). However, this number has grown; in late September, nearly one-third of Americans (32%) reporting they have changed their spending habits since the November 2016 election, a 5-point increase from seven months ago. We think it is safe to say this movement isn’t fading away anytime soon.

Below the surface, not much has changed since June 2017 when it comes to who is driving this trend; liberals and Democrats, men under the age of 45, and Clinton voters are leading the charge. Conservatives, Trump voters, voters ages 65 and older as well as those under 55, and men in general are also changing their habits more than the average American, while Republicans, women, women under 45, Independents, and non-voters are lower than average.


We also noticed a clear pattern when it came to this changed behavior with ethnicity. People of color have been and continue to spearhead this movement, and now we see that men of color (particularly black and Hispanic men) are leading the charge. White voters, on the other hand, are less likely than the average voter to have changed their spending habits since November 2016.



Pocketbook Activists are a subset of these 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. 2 in 5 of those who report changing their economic behavior moved spending between companies, which is slightly down from last year. About one-quarter say they moved spending from a company to a non-profit, which has also seen a slight decrease since last year. Despite this movement, the Pocketbook Activists have remained the same since March; with these two measurements combined, we find that Pocketbook Activists make up 15% of Americans as a whole. This group represents approximately $2 Trillion in spending power. If they are shifting just 10% of their spending it has clearly been noticed by companies across the country.


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 March while others have decreased in activity. Liberal women, those making an income over $100,000 annually, Republican women, men, and black voters are shifting their spending from one company to another at higher rates than the average American. Hispanic voters, voters with an annual income of less than $100,000, and women saw decreases since March. Although some groups are still below average, they have made strides since March, particularly non-voters and voters 65 or older. In additional, white voters and Independents are below average and have remained relatively steady since seven months ago.


Looking at these same demographics, we see positive crossover with groups like black voters, liberal women, men, and those with an annual income more than $100,000. Additionally, we see negative crossover with older voters, white voters, and Hispanic voters; both groups are less likely to shift their spending in either way.



For nearly 20 months, we have tracked the Pocketbook Activists and argued that they are a force to be reckoned with, and that hasn’t changed as we are nearing 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 grows more unstable every day, we are bound to continue dealing with this trend.

One of the most important things to remember about the Pocketbook Activists is that they are not a partisan movement, although liberals and Republican women seem to be leading the charge. This movement continues to be driven by people of color, young voters, and women. It is clear that Americans are still paying attention to how companies react to politics in the public arena.

It will be interesting to see not only how the midterms turn out for all of us, but also to see how the Pocketbook Activists approach the voting booth and if they have a significant impact on the results.