Don Bauder 7:49 p.m., May 22
I saw the sign pasted up in the window of a local 7-Eleven. "Help yourself to a steaming hot cup of democracy," it said, and pictured on the sign were two coffee cups. One of the cups was red, had a picture of an elephant, and said "ROMNEY" in bold typeface. The other cup was for incumbent President Obama and designed with a "blue donkey" theme. It's 7-Election time again, when the convenience store chain sells party-affiliated coffee cups and tracks the results in an effort to predict the results of the general election in November.
Currently, President Obama has a sizable lead over Mitt Romney, leading the national cup poll with 58% of the "vote." He is even winning in Texas, which isn't very likely to happen on November 4th. In California, the vote is 61% in favor of Obama. Romney has a narrow lead in Idaho, West Virginia, South Carolina, New Hampshire.
The 7-Eleven coffee cup poll has been correct in past three elections.
For some reason, I am uncomfortable with 7-Eleven getting involved in election year politics. I know that this is not the only retail-driven election predictor. For one, Banana Republic sold Republican and Democrat themed underwear in the run-up to the 2000 election and the chain correctly predicted a victory for George W. Bush. There have been attempts to predict elections with everything from stock markets to jelly beans and some of the methods have very good success rates. I think my discomfort stems from the fact that the 7-Election poll is involving food, or at least drink, rather than something like boxer shorts. Even more problematic, it seems like the efficacy of 7-Election is tied up in my disapproval.
I read an LA Times article from the 1992 election year where the author wrote of 7-Eleven as "one of the few places where citizens of all races, creeds, colors and video-rental preferences converge and commune." He jokes (not incorrectly) that Sev's, in large part because they have good coffee, is one of the few places in the country where social barriers relax, as though it were a neutral ground where the upper crust and the hoi polloi come together for a cup of java or a Slurpee. I'm sure that it's because of 7-Eleven's diversity that it can run a poll that predicts, with Gallup-like accuracy, the outcome of a national presidential election using nothing more than red and blue coffee cups. But it's also the threatened sundering of that diversity that bothers me.
Food, even something as simple as morning coffee, is usually an issue over which people come together. Whether it is gathering around the dinner table, or rubbing elbows at a favorite coffee spot, we forge bonds with each other over the things we eat. Things like rivalries over pizza supremacy only serve to strengthen those bonds because the abstract argument over thick v. thin crust usually ends in mutual respect and a shared love of pizza (or whatever favorite snack).
Politics, on the flip-side, is purely divisive. Just look at the way Congress has been behaving for the past three years. We guard out political leanings and defend them fiercely for complicated reasons that usually don't matter until an election is in the works. Consider how badly the recall election in Wisconsin this year divided the populace there. Families were practically splitting up over the whole thing.
So I am made uncomfortable when what I love so much about food, i.e. its ability to bring people together, becomes entangled in the distasteful nature of politics to force people apart. I enjoy a good political show as much as the next person. Presidential elections are the best theater ever. But I don't want it tied up with my coffee, which should always be first and foremost a thing of pleasure and sustenance.
Partisan boxers, on the other hand? Knock yourselves out.