Since CivicScience first started tracking sentiment toward hundreds of U.S. brands in 2012, few have had a more prosperous and consistent rise than Chick-fil-A. No restaurant brand enjoys stronger net favorability than the Atlanta-based, closed-on-Sundays chicken purveyor.

Since the beginning of 2016, the percentage of U.S. adults with a favorable opinion of Chick-fil-A has risen nearly every quarter, from a starting point of 51% to a high point of 62% in Q1 of this year. People with an unfavorable opinion fell from 19% to just 12% during the same period. 

These numbers represent a positive ratio of over 5-to-1 in Chick-fil-A’s favor. For context, consider that McDonald’s has only achieved a 2-to-1 positive ratio once since 2015. It’s no surprise then that Chick-fil-A consistently ranks as the most popular QSR brand and one of the top most popular brands overall in the U.S. 

A Chink in the Armor 

After years of steady gains, something strange started happening to Chick-fil-A earlier this year. For the first time since CivicScience began tracking the brand, its favorability fell two points in Q2 2019. To make matters worse, the number fell another two points in Q3, and still another two points in the early weeks of Q4. 

Presently, the percentage of Americans with a favorable opinion of Chick-fil-A sits at 56%, its lowest point in 3-plus years. Meanwhile, those with an unfavorable opinion climbed from 12% to 16%. For certain, most brands would envy these numbers; still, the trend is worth noting.

When we look at the demographics of respondents, nothing too surprising jumps out to explain the shift. The percentage of favorable Millennial and Gen Z respondents fell from a peak of 73% in Q1 to 66% right now, well above the historical peak among the general population. Declines among men and women were relatively consistent as well.   

Politics Rears Its Ugly Head   

A deeper look at the data beyond demographics reveals a familiar culprit – at least one that’s all too familiar in 2019. Favorability toward Chick-fil-A among self-identified Liberal Democrats has plummeted in the past 6-plus months. See the chart below.

Even with its well-documented conservative political leanings, Chick-fil-A still enjoyed favorable sentiment among a majority of Liberal Democrats as recently as April of this year. Then, things began to turn. 

After reaching a high point of 57% in Q1 of 2019, favorability among Liberal Democrats has plummeted all the way to 36% this month. The percentage of unfavorable respondents, meanwhile, nearly doubled from 18% to 31% during that period. 

Why Now? And What Does It Mean? 

A quick Google search for news about Chick-fil-A earlier this year doesn’t surface a particular news story or incident that may have caused this souring view among Liberal Democrats. The most plausible explanation is simply the rapid infiltration of political tribalism in the consumer marketplace as the 2020 election approaches. From the gun bans at Dick’s Sporting Goods to the Colin Kaepernick commercial by Nike, Americans are rewarding or punishing brands for their political positions in unprecedented ways. 

According to CivicScience data, Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to eat at Chick-fil-A at least once a month or more. So, for the company’s sake, maybe this trend won’t make a dent at the cash register. Or, it could be a harbinger of things to come. We’ll certainly keep an eye on it.