Miscellaneous Ramblings

Political Profiling of Mac Users

Charles Moore - 2008.06.30 - Tip Jar

I had to smile reading the New York Times' Maureen Dowd's column on Sunday. I hasten to clarify that I don't read Dowd because I agree with her politics - I'm in general diametrically opposed to her views - but she's a skillful, entertaining wordsmith, and it's always a good idea to keep tabs on what the opposition is saying.

Anyway, this particular piece was about (surprise!) Barack Obama, a profile of whom Ms. Dowd characterized as "sitting in a cafe, hunched over the New York Times, an Atlantic magazine, his MacBook, and some organic fruit-flavored tea, listening to Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks on his iPod."

What caused me to chuckle was the fact that aside from the New York Times, which I peruse only sporadically and selectively, that profile could pretty much be describing me. I've subscribed to The Atlantic Monthly since forever, and it's my favorite magazine; I use a PowerBook (several), and my next computer will more than likely be a MacBook. I'm a fancier of organic tea, and two of my favorite blends are Fujian White with raspberry and Bergamot (a variety of citrus) - flavored Earl Grey Green; Blood on the Tracks is my all-time favorite Dylan album and one of my favorite music albums ever, and I do have an iPod.

The thing is, my politics are somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun's, and I probably disagree with Mr. Obama as much or even more than I do with Ms. Dowd on most matters of any controversy or consequence.

Questionable Association

So what does this all prove? Probably not much, other than the questionable nature of associating people's taste in reading material, music, beverages, and computers with their political inclinations.

Well, maybe the reading material angle has some basis. The Atlantic does try to be evenhanded and has recently included such estimable and erudite right-wing intellectuals as P.J. O'Rourke and Mark Steyn on its staff. Now Harpers . . . well, let's just say I find it difficult to get through an issue of that without muttering maledictions and throwing the rag across the room. There are limits to my forbearance...

However I've never been able to accept that there's any inevitable determinism with respect to a preference for Mac computers and a predilection for left/liberal political persuasion, even though the typecasting has become something of a cultural cliché.

It's long been boilerplate conventional wisdom that the Mac is "the liberal's computer". Steve Jobs is a self-described liberal Democrat, Al Gore sits on Apple's board of directors, and there's no denying that the Mac is extremely popular among demographic types generally assumed to lean toward the liberal end of the political spectrum.

Conservative Mac Lovers

On the other hand, quintessential conservative talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh has long made no secret of his partiality for the Macintosh, and it's now been revealed that another prominent conservative is a consummate Mac fan.

In an interview with NewsBusters' Matthew Sheffield, Karl Rove, considered the architect and mastermind behind George W. Bush's (who has also been reported to be a PowerBook and iPod user) election victories in 2000 and 2004, has revealed that he is a big fan of the iPhone and MacBook Air.

On the iPhone, Rove commented:

"I love it. My life has changed. I have a shred of coolness. I've got my 3,500 people in my addressbook on the phone, I can sync my calendar. I keep track of my modest little stock investments. I can check the weather of my house in Washington, my house in Florida, my boy at school, my hunt-lease in south Texas. I can surf the Web, I'm just - I get part of my email there...."

And when Sheffield observed, "Well it sounds like Steve Jobs should call you up as a spokesman," Rove replied, "There we go, there we go. And not only that, I also have the MacBook Air which is really cool. Even my wife is jealous of my MacBook Air.

And perhaps Rove's and Limbaugh's Mac enthusiasm isn't as anomalous a phenomenon as some might imagine.

Political Leanings of IT Workers

Last March, eWeek's Roy Mark reported that according to a survey by the Computing Technology Industry Association and Rasmussen Reports, 35% of IT workers identify themselves as Republicans and just 26% call themselves Democrats, and while 40% affirm no party affiliation, an overwhelming majority - 75% - categorize themselves in the conservative-moderate range of the political spectrum.

The CompTIA survey also found that IT workers are evenly split between Barack Obama and John McCain as their choice for the next president of the United States. However, one speed bump McCain might be encountering in bonding with computer people is that he doesn't use one, acknowledging that he's a computer illiterate who relies on his wife, Cindy, for tech support. It can't be that he's technically inept. I mean, this guy flew fighter planes, and technically inept folks don't get the opportunity to do that.

It reminds me a bit of a relative of mine who spent his entire career as a civil engineer but has never got into using computers. He just doesn't perceive any need to in his life. Another friend of mine, a retired senior bishop of the church I belong to and a very intelligent individual, used to use a PC, grudgingly, in his office, but vowed when he retired three years ago that he would never get one of his own, and so far he hasn't. However, it's not necessarily a generational thing. Another retired priest friend of mine, a chronological contemporary of John McCain, is an Internet maven who uses Google intensively.

The Mac User 'Mindset Profile'

On the other hand, also last winter, market research firm Mindset Media published a Mindset Profile of Mac users based on a study conducted using Nielsen's Online panel of 7,500 survey respondents.

Mindset placed the typical Mac user in their "Openness 5" category, defined as folks who

"tend to seek rich, varied and novel experiences . . . believe that imagination and intellectual curiosity are as important to life as more rational or pragmatic endeavors . . . are receptive to their own inner feelings and may experience life with more emotional intensity,"

Well, maybe so, but I know lots of conservatives who are also Mac aficionados, and for that matter plenty of liberal lefties who use Windows. As one of the former cohort, I like to think that using a Mac is simply a smarter choice than Windows, both because it is objectively a superior tool for a whole raft of functional reasons, as well as because it's a quantifiably more pleasant and satisfying environment in which to spend one's time. I guess that's partly "emotional", but I don't think it has much to do with narcissistic posturing or one-upmanship.

I choose to use the Mac because "it just works" is more than just ad-copy sloganeering, not because it makes me feel personally "superior", or "cooler than thou", or to make a cultural or political statement, although I do contend that the Mac OS itself is demonstrably superior to Windows. The Mac is simply an excellent tool.

Mac Use and Red vs. Blue States

Well, okay, there's also Net Applications Democrats Vote for the Mac? measuring the usage share of all Macintosh operating systems in respective US states - the resulting breakdown bearing a striking resemblance to the US "red/blue" election map from 2004, with Mac usage in general being higher in demographically more liberal "blue" states and the heaviest Mac concentrations being in the Pacific coast states (and Hawaii), New York, and New England, and the lowest in the southeastern, midwestern, and plains states, albeit with some "red state" exceptions, notably Colorado and Alaska, which are among the top ten Mac-using states.

Macintosh market penetration by state
Macintosh market share by state (Nov. 2007, Net Applications).

The ten states with lowest concentrations of Mac-usage are in West Virginia (3.47%), Mississippi ( 3.70%), Alabama (4.52%), South Carolina (4.61%), Arkansas (4.70%), Louisiana (4.85%), South Dakota (5.37%), North Dakota (5.38%), Kentucky (5.46%), and North Carolina (5.74%).

'red' vs. 'blue' states in 2004 US election

The ten states with the highest concentrations of Mac users are Hawaii (15.89%), Vermont (15.14%), California (12.83%), Oregon (12.72 %), New York (12.33 %), Alaska (11.87 %), Maine (11.19 %), Massachusetts (11.19 %), Washington (10.3 %), and Colorado (10.09 %).

Of course, these phenomena may be attributable to something other than political leanings per se. Economics, education, and even the number of Apple Stores in a region could presumably play a role. In general, states with a lower concentration of Mac users also tend to be ones with lower per capita incomes, and there's that famous Mac price premium. Education demographics and the number of colleges and universities located in a state look like other factors that might impact the findings besides political affiliation, although there is a considerable degree of crossover.

Oh well, enough of that. I think I'll kick back with a nice cup of raspberry-flavored white tea, listen to some Dylan, and check out the latest blogs on The Atlantic's website on my Mac.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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