The 'Chick-fil-A effect' and other election year myths
I started hearing it on the day itself. Conservatives, particularly on Twitter, began suggesting that the much-hyped "Chick-fil-A Day" (held Aug. 1) was a precursor to the supposed presidential sweep that the far-right's other targeted media outlets had told them was coming down the pipe. Christians had had enough, they were told, and the "freedom-loving Americans" were going to stand up against our pro-equality President the way they stood in support of the anti-gay business COO who said marriage equality shakes a fist at God and is due to a "deprived" mind.
Just hours before polls closed, the man most responsible for that day of faux victimization, Mike Huckabee, doubled down on the claim. The former Arkansas governor and current talk show host told Fox News:
"I think what we saw August the 1st, with all of those people going out and getting a chicken sandwich,"…“I think you are going to see an enormous level of voters from rural parts of the country who have lined up and who will go vote, and I still think Mitt Romney wins when it is all over.”
Huckabee: Election like ‘Chick-fil-A Day’ [Politico]
But what ultimately happened? Voter turnout was down. Not only did the GOP not obtain that surge that we were told was inevitable, but even less Republicans turned out to pull the lever for Mitt Romney than turned out for John McCain in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2004. Those who did turn out my have had the taste of fried fowl on their tongues, but the fact is that there was not even close to enough of them to turn needed states into needed wins.
The problem (from the conservatives' standpoint) is that the "Chick-fil-A effect," like so many other GOP talking points this cycle, was a complete and utter myth. This was the year that the GOP, more than ever, began to believe its own press. If the arithmetic didn't add up, many on the other side just believed Karl Rove's calculations instead. If the polls seemed skewed, they turned to Scott Rasmussen or Dick Morris for some alternate, red-heavy version of reality. The Fox News factor was ratcheted up to a new level, with millions of acolytes dosed with a false sense of hope that simply had no factual basis. The "Chick-fil-A effect" was in this same category.
I, someone who has been at the center of the Chick storm since day one, was never impressed nor intimidated by that silly day the Huckabee crowd tried to turn into a "free speech" debate monologue because I saw it as being the same far-right spin that I know all too well. Yes, lots of people showed up to the company's locations, giving a good visual, but it didn't take a master demographer to understand why. Hyper-motivated people from communities as far as an hour away showed up, as they were told to do, and clogged the lines of their nearest restaurant. Each location got a pool of people from various different towns, adding to the robust daily haul that Chick-fil-A chains always take in (I'm from Tennessee, remember; I know the chain's popularity all too well), giving each location the illusion of a nation at war against those mean gays and their liberal agenda. It was good PR if you took it at only face value. I don't tend to do that.
What I focused on was what these images did not take in. Namely, the thousands upon thousands of people who were (a) sickened by what Dan Cathy said and how the company handled it; (b) dumbfounded by the way people like Huckabee and groups like NOM tried to flip the script; (c) determined to never support this company until they really processed and apologized for the harms attached to Cathy's rhetoric and the company's donations; or (d) simply unengaged by any of it, confused to why fried sandwiches on a pickled bun were of any concern whatsoever. The massive single day sales that Chick-fil-a surely racked up did not paint a real picture of America and its people. It was all a charade, really—an attempt to name a reality.
Chick-fil-A Day, like so much of this other false info and optics of this campaign season, actually did a disservice to those truly concerned conservative voters, making them think that by taking on a "least you could do" actionable item like this one, they were making a really difference. People like Huckabee set them up for a great victory, but rational consideration did not bear out that spin. It never did.
While some in the electorate got their first taste of the far-right spin machine during this highly visible election, LGBT advocates have been familiar with this aggressive attempt to name reality for quite some time. The anti-LGBT movement is always trying to concoct an image, be it visual or mental, that pushes their movement into the more favorable light. Sometimes they cast themselves as the battered and abused (an increasingly common tactic) and other times they frame their team as the can't-lose captors of destiny. Whatever the individual goal, the strategy is to craft an illusion and then hope the public will buy into it. This is the reason why a group like the National Organization For Marriage was so quick to glom unto the Chick-fil-a bandwagon. For them, this was yet another opportunity to seize a narrative—and in this case, one that was complete media bait—in hopes that the point they were trying to make would turn into actuality. "The electorate is fired up and ready to reject President Obama and his pro-LGBT agenda" was the message, even if coded behind "free speech" claims.
It just. wasn't. so. Conservatives were not fired up for Mitt Romney. Democrats, carrying varying degrees of support for LGBT equality and disgust over Dan Cathy's anti-gay tirades, were much more fired up to reelect President Obama than a horse race–loving media would have any of us believe. The former camp fired up a hyper-motivated band within its most ardent base and made a huge impact in terms of a fast food chain's one day sales, because that is an achievable task that just about any political team could accomplish if they put their resources toward it. But while the conservative commentariat was focused on artery-clogging fried foods, the progressive commentariat was determined to build the sort of broad coalition that can actually win an election in the America that we call home. For those who want to win elections, the latter strategy is the more sensible of the two.
So where is this so-called "Chick-fil-A effect" now? Well, the company is a national punch line that still routinely pops up on mainstream television shows. Most everyone, of any degree of political participation, knows that this fast food chain is far from supportive of the pro-equality view that is increasingly becoming this country's majority stance. The ardent supporters who turned out August 1 are looking at four more years of a President who supports LGBT people, a Senate that increased its Democratic majority, and a demographic reality that threatens the conservative movement's future electability. Equality is winning in the courts, in the legislatures, and now, notably—AT THE BALLOT BOX.
So whatever—go ahead and enjoy the peach shakes and pickled buns, anti-equality America. As a vegetarian, I will leave those to you. But as a legally married gay man who doesn't take kindly to prominent businessmen who say my marriage will destroy Earth, I will certainly thank you for unwittingly helping me and others to connect much-needed dots. You have helped us show just bad the anti-gay rhetoric gets, how aggressive the spin machine can be, and how the new silent majority prefers voting stalls to fast food booths.
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