It’s the new American pastime.
In nearly 300 installments of this email, I’ve written about political tribalism more often than anything – more than Dick jokes (barely), braggadocious stories about my kids, the evils of ad tech, and even COVID. Tribalism is the most pervasive and impactful socio-cultural trend of our collective lifetimes. I’ll stop writing about it when it’s not.
People are systematically huddling with the like-minded, weaponizing politics, social media, and the brands we buy to stamp our identities and allegiances. We welcome one and all into our camp, so long as they strictly adhere to the dogma. Being part of the majority – whether real or “silent” – gives us comfort, validation, and a sense of moral superiority.
But that’s only one side of the tribal coin.
The negative space is gratifying too… maybe more gratifying.
If our group can do no wrong, the fault inevitably lies with “them.” And we can always find fault, particularly in the leaders on their side. We’ve glorified dunking on our competitors – “posterizing” them – because our triumph is only half-lived if we can’t rub somebody else’s nose in it.
Tribalism creates an especially fertile environment for boogeymen. Blame immigrants! Blame Evangelicals!
COVID? Blame China. They started it.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has one of the highest per capita COVID death rates in the world – particularly shameful if you compare our medical science to the countries worse than us. Blame Trump! Blame Fauci!
Today, it’s all about gas prices and inflation. Blame Biden! Nevermind that gas prices and inflation are skyrocketing around the globe, in most places far worse than here.
Haven’t you heard? The Earth revolves around America. Global forces don’t affect us. So, blame everything bad in the world on whichever American has their finger on the button.
Putin invaded Ukraine because Biden’s weak! Blame Trump. He weakened Ukraine!
It’s not enough to just blame Putin. Consensus is for losers.
If you want proof, ask me later about the emails I get today. Nothing riles people up like equivalencies and two-sidedness. Not blaming everything on one side is a sin.
We live in a circular firing squad. Blame Russia for that, for sowing discord among us on social media. Or blame the Left for cancel culture. Blame, blame, blame.
Whatever you do, don’t hold your own accountable.
That would be un-American.
Here’s what we’re seeing:
Avert your eyes from our Economic Sentiment Index. I said consumer confidence was in the toilet two weeks ago, which means now it’s somewhere deep in the sewer. Every day, we set a new 10-year record of fiscal pessimism. Particularly troubling is the fact that attitudes toward the job market and personal finances – long the buoys that kept the ESI from drowning – have also started to slide. Confidence making major purchases wins the dubious distinction as the worst indicator of the bunch. Yeesh.
Somewhat counterintuitively – but not really – people are less concerned about Ukraine and COVID. This freebie synopsis of our COVID Recovery and Consumer Spending Tracker will make your head spin. People are more worried than ever about supply chain issues and gas prices, because of course they are. Meanwhile, pretty much every COVID indicator we track – comfort being in crowds, eating in restaurants, you name it – is as good as we’ve seen it. Somehow, the percentage of people who are very concerned about the war in Ukraine FELL 11 points, while the percentage who are very concerned about the war affecting their personal finances ROSE 6 points. I won’t judge you for judging.
In this episode of Putin Ruined Everything,rising gas prices are effing up our return-to-office plans. At first, I was annoyed when we published three separate studies about fuel costs this week, until I realized it’s such a pervasive issue that we had to. We’re closely tracking how pain at the pump is impacting (and will impact) spending across every category from groceries to apparel. While more and more U.S. workers were happily returning to the office – at least for a couple days – 1 in 5 are now saying that the cost of rush hour is giving them second thoughts. This won’t just affect employers, but the restaurants, bodegas, and retailers who rely on commuters to boost sales. It sucks.
Grocery delivery hit its ceiling. Among the pandemic-borne trends that won’t maintain their growth rate, online grocery shopping tops the list. After all the rage, just 7% of Americans buy the majority of their groceries online. The e-shoppers, naturally, are the most likely to be concerned about the health dangers of COVID and/or the most likely to still be working from home. Both of those groups are likely to keep shrinking. On top of that, one-third of the people who’ve tried online grocery buying had a negative experience. The main objections to online grocery delivery? Not trusting the personal shopper to do a good job, followed by the service fees. This is what a plateau looks like.
Enthusiasm for March Madness is the highest it’s been in four years. A full 36% of Americans are following the NCAA hoops tourney at least “somewhat closely,” way up from 28% last year, and safely clear of anything we saw in 2020 or 2019. The women’s tournament is especially popular among college kids this year. Don’t come at me when the TV ratings don’t turn out that way (though they might). TV measurement is a joke right now, particularly when you’re talking about the viewing habits of young audiences who “follow” things on TikTok, YouTube, gambling sites, and any manner of non-linear, untethered platform. As Mark Cuban once said on the world’s greatest podcast, sports need to adapt to the way young people consume content – or die.
More from CivicScience Incorporated this week:
- More people still plan to travel for Spring Break this year;
- Natural cleaning products are popular among the spring cleaning crowd;
- St. Patrick’s Day celebrants are 4X more likely to be foodies, also to drink.
The coolest questions this week:
- Do you prefer roller coasters or slower amusement park rides?
- Do you believe there is or is not an obligation to help a party host tidy up if you’re the last one to leave the function?
- When having a martini, do you use vodka or gin?
- Be honest: how good are you about keeping secrets?
- If you post something on social media and nobody likes it, how likely are you to delete the post?
- Would you ever wear a bathrobe in public?
Answer Key: Roller coasters, of course; Yes, but I’m never the last one to leave; Gin is the devil; Outstanding; Great question – yes, sometimes; Every chance I get.
Hoping you’re well.
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In case you’re wondering, this is an informal email I write to CivicScience clients, friends, and other VIPs every Saturday morning. If you’re getting this, you’re either one of those people or were referred to me by one of them. I always love your comments and feedback.
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