Wiretap: One surprising Election Day indicator

Talk to anybody today (or on social media) and you’ll find plenty of folks suffering from election fatigue. You’re not alone: Just check in with CafePress, the purveyors of personalized coffee mugs, bumper stickers and T-shirts by the million.

Four years ago, with the electorate electrified by the chance to vote for a female presidential candidate, a black presidential candidate or a popular and polarizing superstar hockey mom, “We had very supportive followers buying a lot of merchandise,” said Marc Cowlin, head of marketing at the Kentucky-based company (which was headquartered in San Mateo until earlier this year).

“We had this perfect trifecta of Hilary, Obama and Palin,” Cowlin continued. “That combination, plus the fact that we didn’t have an incumbent in office, created a lot of interest.”

And now? “We’re not seeing as much this time,” he said.  “I would say there’s a bit of voter apathy compared to what we saw in 2008.” (Incidentally, I’ve heard the same trends have been playing out at San Jose-based competitor Zazzle, but honchos there declined to chat.)

That said, Cowlin added that the downward dip is “to be expected. In 2004, we saw very similar trends: An incumbent in office, etc.” And, he said, political tchotchkes are — as usual in a presidential election year — once again the company’s top-selling category.

I asked Cowlin whether people are buying more stuff bearing the name and likeness of President Obama, or those of challenger Mitt Romney. “It’s bounced back and forth on a weekly basis,” he said. “Last week, 48 percent of candidate stuff was Obama-related, 42 percent was Romney.” And for the record, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson “sneaks in around 10 percent,” Cowlin said.

Still, not all that volume is created equal. Only about half of the Obama items folks are ordering are pro-candidate; for Romney, that number was up around 88 percent when Cowlin and I spoke a few weeks ago.

Obama-related items on CafePress

Obama-related items on CafePress have been largely split between pro and con.

Sales of Romney-related items on CafePress

Sales of Romney-related items have been overwhelmingly pro-candidate

“He hasn’t been in office yet, so most of what we see from his sales is people trying to get him into office,” Cowlin noted. “Leading up to the 2008 election, Obama was about 90 percent ‘pro’ designs. That completely switched as soon as he got into office.” (The same trend, incidentally, held true with George W. Bush, said Cowlin: “During the time he was running for his first term, it was overwhelmingly positive, and when he got into office, it switched.”)

Of course, in a few hours it’ll all be over. And, at least for fans of the losing candidate, you might see a lot of people with surplus mugs and T-shirts on their hands.


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