By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
For clues to a person’s political beliefs, you can check out the car that they drive (think Prius versus Hummer) or even observe the kinds of foods that they eat (think tofu versus cheeseburger).
But iPhones versus Blackberrys? Can the brand of smartphone that a person uses peg how they are likely to vote?
The answer is yes, based on on a new study. A San Francisco strategic consulting firm found that a majority of Californians who use iPhones support Democratic Jerry Brown for governor, while Blackberry users are backing Republican Meg Whitman.
Cam Fraser, a 55-year-old St. Helena elementary school teacher and iPhone user, said he is likely to vote for Brown this November because Whitman is “way too scary.”
A registered Democrat, Fraser said he has several applications for left-leaning organizations loaded onto his iPhone.
Krista Sarmiento, on the other hand, is a Blackberry user and a political conservative.
Not only was the 23-year-old Santa Rosa hairstylist comfortable with the idea that her phone outs her political beliefs, she said, “that makes me proud, actually.”
But Bob Dixon, a Sebastopol real estate investor, did not seem particularly fond of the notion that his iPhone could be taken as a sign of support for Brown.
Dixon, who hasn’t decided whom to back in the governor’s race, said he likes to approach things “with an open mind.”
Ben Tulchin, who conducted the survey for his Tulchin Research company, called the findings a “neat intersection of culture and politics.”
While there has been plenty of research into how technology is re-shaping the political process, Tulchin said no one had yet thought to ask about smartphone brands and what they reveal about the users’ political preferences.
Tulchin’s firm, which works mainly with organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party, surveyed 600 registered Californian voters to reach his conclusions, which he presented earlier this month to the American Association of Political Consultants. The study was commissioned by CALinnovates, a technology firm.
Only one in five voters, or 20 percent of the state’s voting population, owns a smartphone, according to Tulchin.
But of those, about 57 percent of all iPhone users said they were planning to vote for Brown. Another 31 percent backed Whitman and 10 percent were undecided.
And when it came to Blackberry users, 47 percent preferred Whitman. Brown was favored by 38 percent and 15 percent were undecided.
Tulchin said the findings represent more than a novelty and can actually help candidates target their campaign outreach.
For instance, he said it would behoove Brown to create an iPod app to reach his supporters. Likewise, Whitman might want to devise a way to reach Blackberry fans.
Tulchin said a minority of smartphone owners use them to get political information. But given that more registered voters have a Facebook account than they do a subscription to cable TV, he said candidates ignore these new technologies at their peril.
“That’s a seismic shift in how younger people are getting information and how they spend their free time,” Tulchin said of the rise in social media sites such as Facebook. “If you are a campaign, you can’t say, ‘Let’s just buy a bunch of TV ads.’”
Brian Sobel, a Petaluma-based political consultant, agreed, saying that new technologies can reach a demographic that historically has been relatively apathetic about politics and voting.
“Young people don’t vote because they don’t see what’s in it for them,” he said.
Sobel uses an iPhone and is also a registered Republican. But he was disinclined to read too much into that.
“I think having an iPhone is probably my allegiance to Mac technology more than anything else,” he said.