Masked Intentions

Story and photos by Elisha Fieldstadt
Originally published on November 5, 2012.

Romney mask
Photo by Elisha Fieldstadt

On the Saturday before Halloween, the checkout line at the Spirit store in Chelsea was 50 people deep. By the next day, shoppers were more focused on groceries and staples as hurricane warnings abounded.

Among the Halloween goods were racks of masks of President Obama, but not a Romney mask was to be found.

“We got in the same amount of each mask,” says the assistant manager, Abbie Rodriguez.

Spirit operates 1,000 stores nationwide, and says the mask sales of presidential candidates have accurately predicted the results of the last four presidential elections, although it acknowledges that its “Presidential Index” has no scientific or mathematical basis.

“It’s not uncommon for people to buy the mask of the candidate they want to make fun of and wear a clown costume,” says Crystal Baxter, the manager of marketing and licensing for Spirit. However, she also adds, “It gives supporters a fun way to show their support for their favorite candidate.”

When Spirit’s marketing department noticed that Clinton masks outsold Dole masks in 1996 and then Clinton went on to win the race, it started calling its sales count “The Presidential Index.”

Nine days before Halloween, Baxter reports that overall, Obama mask sales were at 60 percent and Romney at 40 percent. “That number can definitely change because the first four weeks, Obama was up 65 percent and now he’s only up 60, so Romney is pulling up and there’s plenty of room for Romney to continue to pull ahead in the time that’s left,” she says.

Obama mask
Photo by Elisha Fieldstadt

While Romney masks outsold Obama masks in Chelsea (which seems unlikely to predict the vote in that Manhattan neighborhood), in other typically liberal areas — Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. — managers of Spirit stores all say they have sold one or two Romney masks but were sold out of Obama masks.

In contrast, in the cities of “red states,” managers of stores in Layton, Utah; Lawrence, Kan., and Houston say Romney masks are in the lead, and some haven’t sold a single Obama mask.

Managers from several stores in Nevada, Wisconsin, Colorado and Virginia all say they had sold more Obama masks. Managers from multiple stores in Utah, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio all say that they have sold more Romney masks. That information simply indicates that the sales of masks, much like the election will not be won by a landslide.

“We definitely hope that one way or the other our mask sales can continue to early-predict the winner of the presidential race,” says Baxter. Either way, after three contentious debates and a slew of offensive political television ads, maybe the “Presidential Index” is a way to lighten up the election season. “It’s all in good fun,” she adds.