Can Restaurant Sales Predict Who Will Win the Presidential Election?

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But might a person's gastrointestinal tract lead him in other directions as well? Specifically, is it possible to follow a voter from where he or she eats all the way to the voting booth?

A new study out of Scarborough Research suggests it might be. In a report highlighted recently on the pages of the Los Angeles Times, Scarborough surveyed the eating habits -- and political affiliations -- of American restaurant goers. What it found... well, rather than try to describe it to you, let's first take a look at the infographic (click to view):

According to the Times, each of the bubbles refers to the percentage of American adults surveyed, who confirmed eating at one of the named restaurants recently (or shopping or getting takeout from Whole Foods). A few things to note:
  • First, the bigger the bubble, the more people patronizing the restaurant.
  • Second, the further the bubble is to the right (or left), the more conservative (or liberal) the voter.
  • And third, the higher (or lower) the bubble, the more politically active the voters there described themselves as being.
Everybody follow so far? OK, now to the data crunching. The Times looked at this data at its most basic level, and came to some pretty banal conclusions: Democrats like fast food. Republicans are more likely to patronize pricier, sit-down chains.

Both points are debatable, but even if correct, neither is really too terribly revealing. But there is a way to squeeze more out of Scarborough's study. So that's what we did.

Take the Next Step

We took the restaurant names up above, and compared how their most recent sales have been trending in comparison to this quarter last year. The theory being: If a restaurant is doing well, and growing its sales strongly, then it stands to reason lots of people -- lots of voters -- are visiting said restaurant. And if this is the case, then perhaps the politics with which the restaurant is associated are also gaining favor.

Thus, more shoppers at Whole Foods, for example, might mean more voters are gravitating toward the liberal camp. (The fact that these voters are also politically active makes it all the more interesting to see that Whole Foods boasts one of the strongest sales growth rates of any business named above.) Conversely, more business for Chick-fil-A should be a boon to the Republican Party, and its nominee Mitt Romney, in November.

So how do the numbers stack up? Here's a sampler platter drawn from the publicly traded firms that report their sales data with their quarterly SEC filings:
Sales TrendsCustomers Lean...And Vote...
Denny's -8.19% Democratic Inactively
Domino's Pizza -2.29% Democratic Inactively
McDonald's 0.15% Middle-of-the-road Inactively
Bob Evans Farms 1.07% Republican Actively
Brinker's 1.50% Republican Sort of actively
Ruby Tuesday 2.90% Republican Actively
Wendy's 3.76% Republican Inactively
Darden Restaurants 3.78% Republican Actively
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 4.46% Republican Early and often
The Cheesecake Factory 5.57% Democratic Actively
Dunkin' Brands Group 9.82% Democratic Inactively
Yum! Brands 12.50% Middle-of-the-road Inactively
Whole Foods 13.65% Democratic Actively
Panera Bread 17.63% Republican Actively

Where we are now

As you can see, restaurant chains favored by Democrats are enjoying strong sales growth (albeit Panera, a Republican stronghold, has the strongest sales growth of all). On the other hand, each and every "Republican eatery" is enjoying at least some growth, while a couple of Democratic favorites are showing declining numbers. This suggests a groundswell of support on the right.

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It's also worth noting that Republicans, by and large, sound much more motivated to put down their burgers long enough to cast their votes in November. In contrast, many of the Democrats polled may still be contentedly chewing.

If this is the way things play out, then pollsters showing President Barack Obama continuing to hold a lead over Romney may be in for a surprise.

Where We Are Going Next

We're still two-and-a-half months away from Election Day, and circumstances do change. Most of the companies named above will be reporting new sales figures in late September through late October -- giving us plenty of time to review the latest data, and consider what it portends for Nov. 6.

Will crackling sales at Cracker Barrel foretell a victory for Mitt Romney? Will Democrats get a sudden craving for Chinese food, and vote for hope ... and P.F. Chang's? Check back in here in a couple months, and we'll update you on how things are looking.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Panera Bread. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Whole Foods Market, Panera Bread, and McDonald's. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended writing naked calls on Dunkin Brands Group.
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