As November 3 draws near, the presidential election is becoming increasingly top-of-mind for consumers across the U.S. — but how will it impact their alcohol purchasing choices? 

Early signs from the September 29th presidential debate, the first of three to come ahead to election day, suggest retailers should consider how the election season will impact their business. The day of the debate, sales spiked 13% above the average of the previous four Tuesdays in September. 

Though the 2020 election will likely be like no other in history, a look back at past election seasons can provide insight to what customers in blue and red states may drink leading up to and following the 2020 election.* BevAlc Insights analyzed Drizly data from the 2016 presidential election and 2018 midterm election seasons.** While there were subcategory and brand-specific shifts from one group to the other, interestingly enough, blue and red state drinkers have more in common than one might think.

Spirits for Red States, Wine for Blue

Retailers in red states should prepare to stock up on spirits prior to the 2020 election season. “Red states are heavily based in the South, and those states tend to over-index on spirits,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. Vodka has proved to be a particularly popular choice, with the most share during the 2016 election season and the second-highest share during the 2018 election season. Bourbon wasn’t far behind, ranking fourth in both years.

While election-related gatherings may be smaller this year due to Covid concerns, consumers in red states may also look for large-format beer options. During the last presidential election, light lager gained share to sit in the fifth-highest subcategory spot within red states, and the Bud Light Half Barrel Keg ranked second in top red state beer brands even though it hadn’t even broken into the top five during the previous month. 

“The shift purchasing towards larger format beer during the election period suggests that red states may have been viewing the 2016 presidential election and celebrating the outcome in groups,” Paquette says.

Additionally, La Marca Prosecco gained share over the previous month in red states during the 2016 and 2018 election seasons to become the most-sold wine SKU of those periods. 

Blue states, on the other hand, tend to be more wine-focused than spirits-focused. Red wine and white wine ranked first and second in subcategory share, respectively, during the 2016 and 2018 election seasons. Unlike in red states, red wine brands gained share over La Marca Prosecco during the election seasons compared to the month prior.

Trends Across the Political Divide

While some brand and subcategory trends were unique to either red states or blue states, other election season buying behaviors can inform purchasing decisions across all states ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In both 2016 and 2018, both red states and blue states saw no change within their respective top four subcategories during election season versus the month prior. Therefore, we anticipate that states’ top four October subcategories will likely remain constant during election season. 

However, there was more share shift among the Top 10 subcategories in 2016 than there was in 2018. “This suggests that presidential election years have a greater impact on consumer behavior, among both red and blue states,” says Paquette. Retailers can expect more change within subcategory share during the upcoming election outside of those top four share rankings.

The 2016 election season saw Champagne drop in share in both red and blue states compared to the month prior (dropping from #6 to #8 in blue states, and from #5 to #7 in red states). At the same time, Scotch gained share (rising to #6 in both). “This trade from Champagne, a drink typically associated with celebration, to Scotch, a beverage often enjoyed in more serious settings, could allude to the gravity of the 2016 presidential election on both sides of the political spectrum,” Paquette says.

Paquette also predicts that the election could give silver/blanco tequila a share boost; from 2016 to 2018, the category broke into the Top 10 subcategories in blue states, and it gained share in the Top 10 subcategories in red states. “In 2020, we have seen the silver/blanco tequila category continue as the fastest-growing spirit on Drizly,” she says. “We expect that trend to continue through the election period.”

Retailers should also consider major trends that have emerged in beverage alcohol since the 2018 election when stocking up. Hard seltzer, for instance, is poised to hold significant share during the 2020 election season even though it did not break into the Top 10 subcategories or top five beer brands in previous elections. “Since the last election, hard seltzer has boomed and become a staple among many consumers,” says Paquette, adding that it will likely be among the Top 10 subcategories in red and blue states, and brands like White Claw and Truly could rank among the most-consumed beers.

At the same time, certain consumer favorites from previous election seasons are sure to succeed. Tito’s Vodka and Bulleit Bourbon were the first and second most-consumed spirits across blue and red states during the 2016 and 2018 elections, so it’s likely that they will be top-selling brands once again this year. While election season creates uncertainty, consumers fall back on familiar, trusted brands to rely on.

*Measured blue states where Drizly operates: CA, OR, WA, MN, IL, MA, RI, CT, NJ, MD/DC, NY, VT. Measured red states where Drizly operates: ID, AZ, WY, OK, TX, MO, LA, TN, KY.

**2016 election season data: November 1, 2016 to November 15, 2016 (election day: November 8, 2016). 2018 election season data: October 30, 2018 to November 13, 2018 (election day: November 6, 2018).