The first thing I did after downloading the “BuyPartisan” app is run to TIME's office supply closet to inspect the pens.
The debut program from Spend Consciously, a company founded by former congressional staffer Matthew Colbert, allows smartphone owners to scan a barcode and reveal the political contributions from the brand's board of directors, CEO, employees and PACs. Even in this digital age, the pen is an intimate tool for the fair and balanced reporter and with BuyPartisan suddenly I had a window into the ideological hearts of my dearest inanimate colleagues.
Bic’s cheap-o ball pens, nearly Soviet in quality, are predictably leftist with more than 80% of their donations since 2002—the app currently averages the last six election cycles—going to Democrats. The ostentatious decadence of the ink gushing roller pen from Uni-Ball—the pen where you can draw a lake by leaving it in one spot—is, unsurprisingly, 95% Republican. Mankind’s greatest pen achievement, the workhorse of the genre, the Pilot G2 premium gel roller is more or less down the middle, with 29% to Republicans, 37% to Dems and 34% to “Other” (independents or donations without clear partisan bias). Bipartisanship never felt so good.
BuyPartisan, it turns out, is extremely addictive, as I soon found when I went to scour the aisles at Target, the valhalla of political product voyeurism. To stay organized, I browsed with particular shoppers in mind, the first of which, because it came most naturally, was a seven-year-old boy.
It’s too bad kids don’t care about politics because conservative children (every parent and camp counselor knows that all kids are William F. Buckleys at heart) would have a field day on the candy prowl for Halloween. Hershey, makers of such big candy bar names as Kit Kat, is 79% Republican. Then there’s Snickers, Milky Way and Twix, all made by Mars, which is 75% Republican. Even the tri-color classic, Candy Corn, by Brach & Brock Confections gives 45% to Rs and 28% to Ds, though the CEO personally gives 60% to Dems. Little lefties have to settle for the peanuts in the trail mix of the candy universe, Tootsie Rolls, which are 42% Democratic and 38% Republican.
Woe unto the liberal university student, the next hat I donned in my journey. Virtually every sector of the collegian’s life is dominated by products that funnel money mostly to the Grand Old Party, and it’s not the kind of party they’re looking for, according to 2012 exit polls. The home cleaning category is dominated, obviously, by Proctor & Gamble's Febreeze which goes 70% to Republicans. Since Febreeze also dominates the personal hygiene category in some dark corners of dorm life, that’s a twofer for the Party of Lincoln. When it comes to food—known more commonly among the university set as Ramen Noodles—college radicals are even worse off. Ramen maker Maruchan Inc. goes 85% to Republicans.
All of which may help explain why so many college students take solace in the one place where the scales tilt, appropriately, nearer to the place we can all meet in the middle. Beer.
Though Coors Brewing Co. skews 49% Republican, the Boston Beer Co. that makes Sam Adams is 80% Democratic. Other excellent beers seem more evenly split. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is 37% Republican to 34% Democrat. New Belgium Brewing Company goes 38% Republican and 42% Democrat. And if they can’t agree on a compromise beer then there’s always the now Russian-owned hipster/grandpa-favorite Pabst Blue Ribbon, which raises a whole set of questions BuyPartisan is not yet capable of answering.
They may have to wait for the upcoming app EyeSpend, which Spend Consciously says will be "a nutrition label for your conscience." EyeSpend will be similar to BuyPartisan but it'll show you more than just to which party your money goes. Instead, the user will be able to create a profile tailored to his or her ideological interests and be matched with products that meet that criteria. "Then you can make more informed buying decisions, investment decisions, whatever you want to do," says Spend Consciously founder Matthew Colbert.
All of which sounds like a whole lot of trouble for the shopper. But also, if I'm being honest, a whole lot of fun.