Nothing about this year’s election is normal. Not even 7-Eleven’s surprisingly accurate method of polling the country—using extra-large coffee cups. The beverage-based convenience store poll has proven pretty spot-on for the past four elections, but in 2016, they’ve had to change things up.
7-Eleven typically offers two different coffee cup options for its 7-Election promotional campaign, each named for one of the presidential candidates from the two major political parties. This year, however, there are three options: Republican, Democrat, and “Speak Up.” No candidate names.
The nondenominational “Speak Up” cup is currently winning the poll by a pretty fair margin. It offers coffee drinkers the opportunity to pencil in their own political stance, or abstain from pouring their brew into a partisan container to maintain their political purity.
We reached out to 7-Eleven for comment. “During prior 7-Election campaigns, our customers told us that they wanted a third cup option,” Laura Gordon, vice president of marketing and brand innovation for 7-Eleven, Inc., told Vocativ in an e-mail. “Based on that feedback, we developed the ‘Speak Up cup’ to enable customers to join in the patriotic fun regardless of whether they identify with a specific party or not. It’s perfect for those who prefer bipartisan coffee, are undecided or don’t want to publicly display their political persuasion.”
That’s some strong, hot copy from the marketing team. At present, ~30 percent of the consumers have chosen Democrat, 30 percent Republican, with 41 percent choosing to go their own way.
With the exception of Idaho and Iowa, which are both leaning Republican in 7-Eleven’s poll (and in real life) coffee drinkers in the 32 states with 7-Eleven locations are favoring the “Speak Up” cup.
“Obviously, this election is very polarizing, so it’s not that surprising that 7-Eleven customers are choosing to speak their mind and write in what’s important to them this election season with the Speak Up Cup,” Gordon said, getting closer to what seems like the truth.
Fortune and Five Thirty Eight (among others) have pointed out that Americans’ distaste for the main candidates is potentially record-breaking. Clinton and Trump both have unfavorable polling figures the likes of which America has never seen. That, rather than a clamoring call by 7-Eleven’s loyal coffee drinkers for more freedom of expression, probably explains why 7-Eleven added a non-partisan cup choice. It also explains why a company might strip the candidate’s names from their cups, opting simply for their “Democrat” or “Republican” political affiliation. The campaign only includes 7-Eleven’s extra-large coffee cups. If the only options you had were to press your soft lips against a “Hillary” or “Trump” cup, you might opt for a smaller, less lucrative coffee option. (The company claims that its production timeline was the reason for this switch-up).
“In years past, party frontrunners have been clear earlier in the primary process, which allowed us to include the nominees on the 7-Election cups,” Gordon said. Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee on May 4. The coffee campaign launched at the end of August.
Not that the party-affiliated cups are getting much play, consistent with data that shows how it’s not just the candidates that have the American public frustrated, but their respective parties as well. Gallup recently reported that Democratic and Republican identification are at near historical lows.
Regardless of how accurately the 7-Election reflections on the current state of American politics, the company maintains that the “just-for-fun” poll’s purpose is to allow “customers to have their voices be heard.”