Are Potato Chips Political?

Red bags for some red-state chips. Photo: Courtesy of Utz

According to a new study, your choice of potato chip says a lot about your socioeconomic status by whether or not highfalutin things like hand-raked sea salt mean anything to you. The paper, written by a couple of Stanford linguists and published in the December issue of the journal Gastronomica, examines the marketing language on a dozen different potato chip bags, six cheap brands (think Utz and Lay’s) and six pricier ones (e.g., Kettle). What they found: More expensive chips tout fancy ingredients and use a lot of high-school-level words; cheaper chips’ copy talks up tradition and "old family recipes," all with "eighth-grade-level" verbiage.

Red bags for some red-state chips. Photo: Courtesy of Utz

Granted, this is how marketing works. You identify your audience and you push your product in a way that all your research says that audience will respond to. But is there a political angle to all of this, too? "The red-state and blue-state models of our nation are written on the back of every bag of potato chips," writes professor Dan Jurafsky. We know that pizza moguls can’t win presidential elections, but does this mean we now have to start worrying about what kinds of chips our candidates eat?

Stanford study: Potato chips and the red state / blue state divide [Oakland Tribune]