Monday, November 15, 2010

Does easy access to Starbucks latte really make you vote Liberal?

Latte-sipping elites, ensconced in comfy chairs and typing away at laptops in their local Starbucks, are a fixture of Canadian politics today. The stereotype is used – often scornfully – to describe Liberal voters, probably from downtown Toronto.

The reality, however, is that this person is no more likely to vote Liberal than he or she is to vote New Democratic or even Conservative. An analysis of the locations of more than 1,000 stores, booths, counters and kiosks reveals that the availability of Starbucks coffee shops in a riding is in no way indicative of likely voting habits by its inhabitants.

You can read the rest of this article on The Globe & Mail website.

I came to this article almost expecting to confirm the stereotype. The Liberals hold a good deal of the downtown urban ridings, so I assumed they would come out on top. I was even more sure of it when I saw that Vancouver Centre has 58 locations. But the amount of Starbucks locations in Alberta surprised me - the province ranks third after British Columbia and Ontario. There are even more locations in Manitoba than there are in Quebec or anywhere in Atlantic Canada. There are a lot in Toronto and Vancouver, sure, but there are quite a few in Edmonton and Calgary as well.

It was a long process putting together this article, despite the fact that it is geared towards the "lighter side" of political analysis. I had to locate and plot the locations of all 1,070 Starbucks outlets using the Elections Canada site.

I looked at the numbers a dozen ways but couldn't find any pattern that said anything other than the fact that there was no pattern. At first I was a little disappointed, but in the end the lack of a conclusive result is a result in and of itself, and I suppose dispelling a myth is more fun than confirming one. But it would have been a riot if Conservative ridings were far more likely to have a high density of Starbucks locations.

And in light of the by-elections taking place at the end of the month, here is how those three ridings breakdown:

Vaughan - 7 locations
Winnipeg North - 2 locations
Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette - 0 locations


  1. "Among the four party leaders, and with five locations in his riding of Calgary Southwest, it is Stephen Harper who can boast of having the most ready access to a double caramel macchiato. "

    but. but !!!! Stevie IS the elite !! Surely you know that !!

  2. I would think it has more to do with this: Starbucks v. Tim Hortons represents in coffee terms Expensive, Complicated, and Seattle-based Corporation vs. Cheap, Simple, Oakville-based Corporation.

    This is great use of synecdoche, and creates an identifiable symbol for Conservative policy as presented to the public: tax cuts, simple solutions, and Canadian Nationalism.

    And, it's a genius way to frame the opposition: expensive, complicated, and working for extra-national interests.

    As a former Starbucks employee, I have seen a palpable distress for many customers wanting just a coffee, being unable to find it on the menu, and then having to learn the cup sizes. It's a smart move to connect that feeling (from a potential voter) to a partisan choice on the ballot.

    So I'm not at all surprised it has nothing to do with reality, what it has everything to do with is creation of a tribal identity for the Conservatives.

    (That said, Starbucks Hot Chocolates are a superior product to the chalky-salty stuff on offer at Tims. Seriously, don't know what you want at a Starbucks: ask for a short hot chocolate. You won't be disappointed.)

  3. I live in Vancouver Centre.

    I walk to work every day - it's only five blocks - and I pass TWO Starbucks on the way.

    And this isn't atypical. If I was actually downtown, I would expect to find twice as many.


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