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By: Gigaom
April 12, 2012 at 19:16 PM EDT
Republicans love Diet Dr. Pepper. Now tell me why.
The Atlantic recently published an article on what politicans know about voters, complete with market research data that breaks down consumer preferences by poltical party and likely turnout on voting day. There are some strong associations that lack political explanations. I want to know why.

Sometimes, data tells us obvious things — high-turnout Democrats drive hybrids and watch MSNBC, while high-turnout Republicans watch Fox News and eat at Cracker Barrel. Nothing interesting there. But did you know Republicans also love Diet Dr. Pepper?

The data in question, which comes from National Media Research Planning & Placement, illustrates voters’ preferences on everything from soft drink to web site to car choices, broken down by party affiliation and likely turnout at the polls. I came across it in this great article from The Atlantic on what politicans know about voters. As with many findings in our new data-driven world, some of what the NMRPP’s market research uncovered are mysterious, but really understanding these trends is critical to really understanding people.

These brands, for example, skew very strongly toward high-turnout Republicans:

  • Diet Dr. Pepper
  • Michelob Ultra
  • Stein Mart

Seemingly random things that strongly toward high-turnout Democrats: nothing, really. Unless you find Subaru ownership surprising.

I’ve asked this question before, including once in the comments on a post about Mac users booking pricier hotel rooms and, in an expanded version, in a January Long View for GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): How do we figure out why things happen once we figure out that they’re happening? I actually have a few guesses as to why so few things associate strongly with high-turnout Democrats, but nothing I’d bet my life on. I could make a wildly speculative guess on Michelob Ultra, too. But I’m stumped as to why Diet Dr. Pepper, in particular, is so strongly associated with loyal Republicans.

Finding the why answer matters, though, especially if you’re in the business of trying to convince people to buy products or vote for you. You need to understand what really drives them. And as we move away from telephone and in-person surveys toward web-based sentiment analysis, it might get more difficult to find out. A marketer can’t just email someone and say, “I’ve been tracking your online activity (that’s how I got your email address), and I noticed you’re a Diet Dr. Pepper-drinking Republican. Why Diet Dr. Pepper?” We have to figure out ways to find answers to obvious questions that we can’t just ask.

Maybe it’s just looking at and analyzing a lot more data. Among other things, I think the next generation of big data techniques will focus on new methods for understanding the human pysche, so we can below the surface of just spotting patterns. There’s a reason Republicans love Diet Dr. Pepper. There’s a reason Democrats don’t seem to love anything. There’s a non-economic reason Mac users pay more for both computers and hotel rooms. I just want to know what those reasons are.

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