For Political Understanding, Embrace Facts and Ditch the Echo Chambers

What is the strongest brand in the United States? Take a guess, but you, like most of us, will probably get the answer wrong—not because the answer is surprising, but because it is perhaps so obvious you won’t even consider it.

In America, the strongest brand across all adults measured is, quite simply, Brand U.S.A. By contrast, across the same audience segment, Google is the strongest brand measured in Australia. Samsung ranks first in South Korea. Italy loves their Nutella. And in Russia, Putin is brand number one.

Why is this important?

Firstly, I should explain the process for how we at Y&R measure brand impact. BAV, Y&R’s proprietary brand measurement data tool has been conducting its surveys on consumer brand perceptions since 1993 in over 50 countries, and it has remained more or less consistent across time and geographies. Respondents are asked to rate brands in a category-agnostic fashion (brands ranging from consumer goods, to financial services, to countries, and more), identifying whether or not they associate each brand with our BAV brand personality attributes. What’s important to note is that unlike polls, which are taken at particular socio-political flashpoints, our data is dispassionate and measured methodically spanning decades.

BAV takes a people-first approach to insightfully understand who we are. As people, we are consumers, but we are also citizens of our country. And although I continue to steer clear from specific political topics in my weekly rambles, it is important to understand how BAV gauges the political landscape globally, while for this ramble in particular, the political landscape of the U.S.

So, let’s dive in.

Brand US.A. has been the strongest brand in the United States since we began tracking it in 2001 and shares many characteristics with other powerful leadership brands like Apple and Google. When we look at political party affiliation, we find that despite its overall ranking as number one across all adults, Democrats rank Brand U.S.A. as their number three power brand, while Republicans overwhelmingly rank it as first.

To understand this difference in party ranking of the brand, it is necessary to analyze how the two parties view key aspects of Brand America. Republicans define Brand U.S.A. by its high performance, distinctiveness, and innovation—characteristics that Republicans attribute to Brand President Trump as well. At the brand attribute level, Republicans see a 65% correlation between Brand President Trump and Brand America, while Democrats see only a 5% correlation between the two. Most notably, while Democrats see Republicans as correlating (albeit minimally) to Brand America, Republicans see Democrats as negatively correlated to the brand.

Let’s go deeper.

Republicans see Brand America differentiated from other brands by its qualities of “innovation” and “performance,” whereas Democrats consider America’s unique brand attributes to be “progressiveness” and “social responsibility.” In 2008 and 2011 (years in which Obama was President), Democrats considered Brand U.S.A. to be the number one brand in the country. This year, Democrats ranked Brand America third, behind Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, respectively. The most significant difference between the parties is that Republicans align the President and Brand U.S.A., while Democrats align their own party with Brand U.S.A.

In practical terms, the data means a number of things. First, the notion of country brands, presidential brands, and their linkage are powerful and cannot be overlooked. Clearly, if Brand U.S.A. is the number one brand in the country, non-alignment to that brand could be a major problem. However, another piece of data from our study is critical here. We found that leadership is no longer associated with trust—a fact true for both parties.

Our study also shows that the majority of citizens now place more trust in private industry than in the government, which is certainly something to consider when you think of Brand President Trump. Based on this finding, it is safe to conclude that the likely leaders of tomorrow will require strong backgrounds in the private sector, not just in the world of policy-making. In fact, both parties rank Bill Gates as a top three individual correlated with Brand U.S.A. Imagine that—something both parties actually agree on.

Frankly, I’m not sure that any of these attitudes are new—we are just among the first to measure the data. If we think back in time, across the world, it’s usually the stronger personal brand that wins in politics. So, my advice to all is extract yourselves from the echo chamber. Look at the concrete data. The usual suspects won’t cut it, whatever your party affiliation. The next challenger might consider leaning in to all aspects of Brand U.S.A., joining “performance” and “innovation” with “progressiveness” and “social responsibility,” like many of the business leaders in our study already do.

As the Guardian noted in an article published soon after Trump’s election, “[W]e tend to engage most with information that flatters our ideological preconceptions.” However comforting the echo chamber may be, “it locks us into perpetual tribalism, and does tangible damage to our understanding. To counteract this, we need to become more discerning at analyzing our sources – something we are currently poor at doing.”

Don’t ignore what the people of your country are really saying. As I won’t ignore what the people of the United States are saying.

Listen:

The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults—Alexis de Tocqueville.

Learn from past mistakes. Embrace the facts.

What do you think?

 

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