In an era of doggie day care and puppy yoga, the White House is aiming to turn the intense devotion of some to man’s best friend into an edge in the presidential campaign.
Committed pet parents have become just one of the microconstituencies that both presidential campaigns are attempting to woo for money and votes.
Among the other specially targeted groups are military families, stay-at-home moms, college students and various users of social media.
But perhaps no other pitch is quite as narrowly focused or unusual as that being made to pet owners.
Fashion icon Anna Wintour announced earlier this month that Marc Jacobs would design pet gear for the Obama campaign, an operation that was already pitching a catalog of pet garments, including “Cats for Obama” collars and an “Obama Dog” sweater, to help fill campaign coffers.
But whom are they targeting?
“Pet owners would likely fall into the moderate-to-high-income suburbanite group that is on the target list for both campaigns this cycle,” said Republican strategist Brian Donahue, who analyzes voter tendencies. “It’s not that far-fetched. Targeting what matters the most to these people truly makes a difference.”
In an era of niche audiences, he said some voters would shape their preferences not just by how the White House contenders relate to their anxieties but their pets’ as well.
“We know that Republicans are bourbon drinkers and Democrats are Volvo owners — I’m serious, it gets that specific,” Donahue said.
In an election dominated by voters’ financial anxieties, persistent joblessness and a sagging housing market, the microtargeting of niche constituencies like pet parents probably looks like another episode of the political silly season. But that doesn’t mean those messages don’t resonate with voters who devote much of their time and monthly budgets to vet visits, or with the parents of college-age students or with the families of soldiers serving overseas.
Sara J. Emery, 25, of Arlington, admits to seeing her 4-year-old Jindo-mix dog as her child — she also takes in a variety of foster animals.
She says a news account she heard about GOP contender Mitt Romney strapping his dog, Seamus, to the roof of his car in a carrier on a long-ago family vacation from Boston to Canada is enough to keep her from considering a vote for him.
“I could never support a politician who had such a blatant disregard for an animal’s well-being — especially an animal supposed to be a beloved family pet,” she said on Take Your Dog to Work Day. “I think that incident, as well as the way he’s handled it, demonstrates a selfishness and inability to empathize that would be very dangerous in the White
Still, Chris Sutton, a Washingtonian putting off children because of his elderly bulldog’s “insane medical bills,” doesn’t share that concern.
“He seems like a no-nonsense guy,” Sutton said of Romney. “I’d say that’s what we need in these times, not somebody who’s going to coddle us.”