Examining what it’s like to live, work and play in the United States, our experts guide you through the nuances that define its culture.
The Democratic Party is a coalition, and Democrats emphasize that they are consciously a coalition representing multiple social groups’ interests. They are roughly divided into thirds – White, college-educated, White non-college-educated, and non-Whites (who mostly do not have a college degree). The White non-college segment is getting smaller, so the party is primarily a coalition of non-White and college-educated White voters. There are aspects that unite these groups: preferences for redistribution, racial equality, and liberal policy-making like a social safety net. But there are cultural differences, and current politics is increasingly culturally centered. The college-educated White segment of the Democratic Party embraces a kind of politics that values erudition and intellectually tinged ideas and phrases. They believe in credentialed expertise, like cultural progressivism on LGBTQ+, race, and gender issues, and are philosophical in their style. Non-college liberals may have generally liberal positions on these issues, but the stylistic aspect of Black and Latino politics is very different.
There’s an interesting ambivalence regarding how Democrats see themselves. They see themselves as fighting the power – an entrenched opposition fighting for historically oppressed people. But this historical identity for politics on the left coexists with the reality that college-educated, white-collar professionals, who hold liberal cultural views, dominate most institutions in the US. This means a very different kind of politics than the views that drove the Democratic coalition throughout the 20th century. One interesting thing about student debt is that it shows the shifting priorities of the party as its coalition has shifted – this is obviously a policy that a very discrete, definable constituency cares a lot about. And many other people are either indifferent to or mildly opposed to it. But there's clearly a political strategy to attract and maintain enthusiasm among young college graduates.
Politics and consumer life are deeply integrated in the 21st century – political values are shaped by consumer choices, and vice versa. We've reached a point where politics is about everything, and everything is about politics. Anything can become a cultural dispute and acquire a political valence. The music you listen to, the movies you watch, the products you buy in the store, and the clothes you wear can all be coded as a political act. That's where we're at now as a society. I think we all increasingly recognize that in our own lives.
The US is navigating an era of profound polarization. Polarization used to be solely confined to the political arena, but now, deep divisions are found in almost every area of American life. From the entertainment people consume to the neighborhoods they inhabit and the economic beliefs and educational values they hold, the ideological chasm between Democrats and Republicans is widening and reshaping the very essence of American society.
The Republican Party is undergoing an immense shift. Historically aligned with big business and the educated elite, the party's core values and priorities are being completely redefined by the rising tide of populism. This shift is evident in the Republican Party’s growing skepticism towards international trade, a new hostility towards big corporations, and a deep-rooted desire to preserve cultural and ethnic traditions. White grievance is a key political motivator for Republican partisans. This is illustrated by the party’s strong animosity towards ‘wokeness’ and progressive cultural values. Once driven by business interests, the party is now driven by cultural ones; it historically claimed to be the party of small government, but now regularly interferes in corporate decision-making. In 2021, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told corporations to “stay out of politics,” while Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott both signed executive orders banning private businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccination ‘passports’. Republicans have decried corporations’ embrace of DE&I initiatives to establish a more diverse workforce and are unhappy with ESG guidelines as the investment approach signals a shift away from free market capitalism.
The stakes have never been higher for brands operating in this intricate landscape. Republicans are profoundly attached to their cultural values and have launched impactful boycotts against companies they believe undermine them. In 2021, former President Donald Trump called for Republicans to boycott brands that oppose new voting restrictions passed by Republican state legislatures. Republicans have also boycotted Target over its decision to sell Pride month merchandise, which Target acknowledged has hurt sales. Perhaps the most successful boycott has come against Bud Light. Republicans boycotted the brand after it partnered with a transgender influencer to promote its beer on Instagram. As a result, the brand’s sales fell by over 10% in the Spring of 2023 compared to a year prior. Conversely, Republicans have become strong fans of brands and influencers who promote or celebrate conservative values. Every decision a brand makes, from product endorsements to marketing campaigns with influencers, has the potential to resonate with or alienate large segments of the population.
of Republicans live in urban areas compared to 27% of Democrats
of all young voters in the 2022 midterms were LGBT youth – and they had the largest vote choice gap of any group of young people: 93% for Democrats and 5% for Republicans
of Republicans have an overall positive view of religion, compared to 32% of Democrats
of Democrats say Republicans are more immoral than other Americans
In the Spring of 2023, just 10% of Republicans rated national economic conditions as 'excellent' or 'good'
of Democrats view the growing gap between rich and poor as 'a critical issue facing the country'
Kraft has introduced a plant-based version of its iconic boxed macaroni and cheese, featuring a fava beans and coconut oil recipe. Plant-based eaters are looking for vegan versions of familiar foodstuffs, and successful brands are innovating to capture declining flexitarian interest.
Bath & Body Works has launched a campaign to encourage busy holiday shoppers to take a moment and relax with aroma – featuring a ten-foot tall candle in New York’s Herald Square. With many shoppers under financial strain, brands are positioning themselves as an antidote to holiday shopping stress.
After his expulsion from Congress, ex-Representative George Santos has become an unlikely anti-hero for Gen Zers online – who are represented by his awkward, messy behavior. As polarization grows, Gen Zers are drawn to relatable irreverence for a breath of fresh air and authenticity.
Infusing multiple romantic aesthetics with a touch of mundane authenticity, the online series The Neighbor Saga has become a TikTok sensation. As short-form content becomes more established, Gen Z audiences are increasingly drawn to unique, emotionally engaging, and eclectic storytelling.
Steak-umm has released an innovative campaign centered on fears around disinformation, putting words in vegans’ mouths in a series of deepfakes starring its Steak-umm sandwiches. As expectations of brands grow, many are taking an earnest, proactive approach to cultural conversations.
The grocery chain's career development program is expanding with two new apprenticeships to help train people to be on the path to management. Initiatives like these show how brands can help facilitate personal and financial independence as people navigate a volatile world.
The City of Las Vegas has launched a campaign for Super Bowl LVIII, encouraging 'excessive celebration' of the city's first Super Bowl, including a Change.org petition. Following years of economic worries, communications around excess and release are growing resonant with sports fans.
From the East to West Coast, Americans are falling in love with the sport of pickleball – a pastime that has seen a drastic growth in popularity post-pandemic. What’s driving so many in the US to embrace the sport and how can brands tap into consumers’ desire for engaging, communal activities?
As digital saturation peaks, Gen Zers and Yers are gravitating towards listening bars, embracing the tactile richness of vinyl in communal spaces and engaging with music and the wider community. What’s sparking this analogue resurgence and how can brands tap into people’s desire for IRL experiences?
Montefiore Medical Center in New York City has released a heartwarming short film about a disabled boy inspired by a dog with a mobility aid. It demonstrates how technology empowers people with disabilities by giving them a voice and debunking misconceptions about their cognitive abilities.