Right-wing shoppers are more likely to splash out on luxury items than their left-wing counterparts to maintain their social standing, new research found.
They were more likely to pay more for a car, designer sunglasses or top of the range headphones to signal their status.
This is because conservatives tend to view luxury goods as strengthening their social position rather than keeping up with the Joneses’.
Conservatives are also more adverse to change in the social hierarchy and want to preserve the socio-economic order.
Liberals on the other hand value luxury goods too, but are less of a big spender.
The research is among the very first to establish a causal link between luxury purchasing patterns and political inclination.
It builds on the fundamental understanding that people buy luxury goods to signal their status.
The research went further to show conservatives seek status signalling for two critical reasons; they want to maintain their social standing in relation to others or to advance it.
Dr Jeehye Christine Kim of Hong Kong UST Business School said: “This is because conservatives – but not liberals – tend to view these goods as strengthening the stability of their position,”
Lead researcher associate professor of marketing Dr David Dubois at INSEAD Business School in France, added: “This also indicates that conservatives’ greater desire for luxury goods does not stem from ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ but rather from a strong urge to maintain their social standing.”
Political changes or external threats or crises that can potentially reshuffle the hierarchy can indeed also activate the motivation to maintain status.
Prof Dubois explained: “External shocks like economic crises or a threat to status can produce a surge in interest for conspicuous consumption, in particular beauty and appearance products – a phenomenon referred to as ‘the lipstick effect.'”
These findings suggest that the lipstick effect may be stronger among Republicans than Democrats.
He added: “Republican consumers are susceptible to economic or political uncertainty because conservative ideology naturally tends towards the conservation of the hierarchy and the preservation of status.”
Prof Dubois and his co-authors ran a number of in-depth studies based on different samples and analyses using actual sales data, as well as online experiments to test how and when such an effect of status maintenance on the desire for luxury products and services occurs.
Respondents provided information about their political beliefs, their desire to buy luxury goods and their social status.
Prof Dubois said: “We found that republicans with high social status were 9.8 per cent more likely than high-status democrats to buy a luxury car.
“Intrigued, we dug a little deeper and discovered that while high-status democrats spent £22,087 on average, their republican counterparts were spending £25,279 on cars.
“For luxury car sellers that meant a median difference of 14.45 per cent increase in sales to conservative customers.”
In one study, right-wingers and left-wingers viewed one of three advertisements for the same sunglasses, one which boost social status, one which maintained it and one that did not to anything for status.
Both groups were more willing to pay for the glasses which promised maintaining or elevating social status, but conservatives were willing to pay much more for them.
The difference in how much conservatives will pay for the same product, if it boost social status, is significant.
In another study right-wingers were willing to pay £82 for headphones if they socially elevated the buyers, nearly double what they would pay if they didn’t.
This was a 65% increase on what liberals would fork out.
Dr Kim said “Making the connection between politics and audience segmentation might be new, but it is also a logical step.
“We felt it was a natural question to ask.
“If political ideology shapes people’s views about social hierarchy – from resource redistribution to social judgment, why shouldn’t it also sway consumption behaviours tied to social hierarchy, such as the desire for positional products, among which luxury are primary?”
The research could be very beneficial for companies.
Co-author Dr Brian Park at Georgia State University said: “This is a very accessible tool for luxury brands.
“Political affiliations can be determined along geographical lines – and there are tons of granular data easily accessible that enable brands to enact a segmentation based on political ideology.”
Prof Dubois added: “It’s easy to assess people’s ideology from what they’re saying online on social media- who they follow, the content they ‘like’ – and via their preference for different media outlets or platforms.”
The study was published in the Journal of Marketing.
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