The politics of fast food: What Republicans and Democrats like to eat

The Olive Garden is "authentic ethnic"? A new poll has some interesting, and vaguely depressing, numbers on America's culinary tastes

43 percent of Republicans think The Olive Garden is authentic Italian, while 41 percent of Democrats say the same.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Fred Prouser)

"In this highly polarized political climate Democrats and Republicans can't even agree about food," says Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling. He should know, because for some reason, PPP just surveyed 500 registered voters on what they like to eat. You can peruse the crosstabs [PDF] to see how different ages, races, genders, and regions of the U.S. compare in their love of various fast food chains, basic food preferences, and favorite meals, but the most eye-catching breakdown is along party lines.

Let's start with breakfast: In a point of bipartisan agreement, 34 percent of both Republicans and Democrats prefer bagels for their morning bread product, but more Republicans like donuts (35 percent versus 28 percent for Democrats) while Democrats are almost as apt to reach for a croissant (32 percent, to 24 percent for Republicans). There's also broad bipartisan agreement about pancakes: 33 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans prefer them to French toast (30 D/28 R) or waffles (24 D/23 R), though independents buck the comity: More prefer French toast (35 percent) than the venerable pancake (30 percent). Most surprisingly, says Ilya Gerner at Comedy Central, "somehow, there are 9 percent of Americans who don't like donuts, bagels OR croissants and 15 percent who don't like pancakes, French toast or waffles." That's nuts. "Democrat or Republican, man or woman, at least we can unite against these 'Americans' who hate happiness."

When it comes to fast food, the politics become more stark, and nowhere more than with fried chicken joints. Chick-fil-A, as famous nationally for its president's opposition to gay marriage as its chicken sandwiches, is the go-to chicken purveyor of 48 percent of Republicans and least favorite of 28 percent of Democrats; the Democrats prefer the nonpartisan KFC (39 percent, versus 29 percent for Republicans — only 11 percent of GOP respondents list KFC as their least favorite). Politics didn't save Papa John's in the pizza category, though. Despite the eponymous "Papa" John Schnatter's vocal and strident hostility toward ObamaCare, only 17 percent of Republicans and Democrats listed his restaurant as their pizza favorite, putting it in third place to Pizza Hut (36 D, 31 R) and "Something else" (22 D, 27 R). Even there, more Democrats (19 percent) than Republicans (7 percent) listed Papa John's as their least favorite pizza place.

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On a related note, "the study does address at least one serious issue," says Amy McKeever at Eater. Prompted by Schnatter's threat to charge Papa John's diners more to cover the added costs of ObamaCare, PPP asked people if they would be "willing to pay more for your food at a restaurant if you knew it would allow the employees who worked there to have health insurance." The answer is yes, though Democrats were much more receptive to the idea (72 percent to 19 percent) than Republicans (41 percent to 38 percent).

Everyone's favorite question, though, is whether people think The Olive Garden is "a quality source of authentic ethnic food." Alarmingly, says Eddie Scarry at The Blaze, "far too many Americans think Olive Garden is a legitimate Italian (pronounced 'Eye-Talian' for greater effect) restaurant." The problem is slightly worse among Republicans — 43 percent said yes, 41 percent, no — than Democrats (41 percent yes, 44 percent no), but this is "a bipartisan problem." This is where independents shined: Only 29 percent agreed, while 49 percent said no. "If ever there were a case for a three-party system, this Olive Garden revelation is it," says Kara Baskin at Grub Street Boston.

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There are plenty of "mostly superficial differences" between partisans, but the surprising takeaway from PPP's survey is that "when it comes to food, it's amazing how much we do agree upon," says Wendy Gittleson at Addicting Info. Dinner is overwhelmingly our favorite meal, our favorite burger place is Burger King, and "we love Coca-Cola, we don't really like to admit we love fast food, or that we're fat." Sure, some of the superficial differences are interesting: Democrats drink regular soda over diet by a 47 percent to 31 percent margin, while the opposite is true of Republicans, with 31 preferring regular and 43 favoring diet soda. And some of the questions were so stupid that the most popular answer was "not sure" — see: "If the candidates for president were Ronald McDonald and the Burger King, who would you vote for?"

But here's my biggest surprise: 60 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of Democrats would rather drink Coke than beer, and roughly 12 percent of respondents from both parties say they never drink either.

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