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Graphic Element, Right Gutter

You Are What You Drive

When looking at carmakers, Porsche, Jaguar, and Land Rover owners identified themselves as Republican over Democrat by roughly 2:1. Volvos were the most ''Democratic'' cars, by 44 to 32 percent, followed by Subarus and Hyundais. But, as Volvo's advertising has stressed performance in addition to safety, more and more Republicans are buying Volvos. The CNW survey last year showed that Democratic buyers of Volvo cars outnumbered Republicans by only 32 percent to 27 percent.

''Volvos have become more plush and bourgeois, which is a Republican thing to be,'' said Mickey Kaus, a dual expert in politics and cars as the author of the Kausfiles and Gearbox columns for Slate.com. ''Subaru is the new Volvo - that is, it is what Volvos used to be: trusty, rugged, inexpensive, unpretentious, performs well, maybe a bit ugly. You don't buy it because you want to show you have money; you buy it because you have college-professor values.''

According to CNW's figures, staunch Democrats drive S.U.V.'s too, but they tend to prefer smaller, foreign-made ones. Republicans generally like them bigger and American-made, or at least bearing the name of an American company, even if they were built elsewhere.

The survey also found that minivans skewed blue. At first glance, this might seem odd, because Republican car buyers tended to have more children - 3.5 on average, versus 1.7 for the Democratic buyers. Explaining this apparent contradiction offers a look into the increasing exactitude marketers seem to be applying to the question of who drives what.

''You might think with all the kids, they'd want the practicality of a minivan,'' said Art Spinella, the president of CNW. But practicality was not the Republican customer's highest priority, as Mr. Spinella's company discovered by tracking the customers throughout the buying process.

''There is a certain resistance that male new-car buyers have to minivans even in a household with two or three kids,'' Mr. Spinella explained. ''For the most part, red-state households are more male-dominated when it comes to decision-making for a vehicle. In blue states, it's more of a joint decision-making process.'' Because the Democratic women get more of a say in the decision, their families end up with more minivans than S.U.V.'s.

Republicans are more loyal to their brands and shop around less than Democrats. Some of these differences have more to do with geography than personal politics. Democrats are concentrated in port cities with more links to Europe and Asia, making them more open to foreign car companies. Republicans are more likely to be living in the heartland, where there's room for bigger cars and a tradition of loyalty to the American cars built in nearby factories.

But car buyers are also responding to the political images that come with some cars. Some foreign car companies have marketed cars as environmentally friendly, and some have at times focused on parts of the Democratic base. Saab and Subaru were the first and most visible to aim advertising at gay drivers.

Midsize and large American cars skew Republican, and so, of course, do big American pickup trucks. That may have something to do with American car companies marketing themselves through one of the great symbols of Republicanism, Nascar, which is enormously popular in the red states.

''Nascar has an American-made-only requirement for cars and a variety of other rules that discourage foreign makers from competing,'' said Steve Sailer, a conservative journalist who has analyzed the red-blue divide. ''Toyota has dipped its toe into Nascar's truck-racing series with its American-made trucks, but there isn't a lot of demand for Japanese participation.

''In truth, a lot of fans would be sore about ending the all-American monopoly. Nascar has become a covert ethnic-pride celebration for red-state whites of Northern European descent.''

All surveys found that nothing is more Republican than a big pickup. ''The No. 1 vehicle bought by millionaires is the Ford F-Series pickup truck,'' Mr. Spinella said. ''They're farmers, ranchers, contractors, independent businesspeople. They basically work for themselves and they have substantial assets.''

The Saab is a Democratic car, according to both CNW and Scarborough, which found that Saab owners were about twice as likely to be Democrats. It's an upscale car an affluent Democrat can drive without feeling guiltily ostentatious while also reveling in a different sort of status symbol, said the president of Scarborough, Bob Cohen.

''The Saab owner is not going after the obvious status symbol like a BMW,'' Mr. Cohen said. ''He wants to make a statement that he's in a small group with specialized knowledge who don't go for a safe choice like BMW, because he can get a better deal with a Saab.''

A less affluent version of that car buyer might go for a Saturn, the offbeat brand of choice for aficionados who skew heavily Democratic, by 39 to 11 among last year's car buyers. Mr. Kaus says they appeal to Democrats because they are ''clunky, Earth Shoe-like cars.''

SATURN owners were also prone to put their Democratic loyalties on display, at least according to a count undertaken by Political Bumpers, which was billed as ''an extremely unscientific'' project undertaken near the end of the presidential campaign last year.

Volunteers counted more than 1,300 bumper stickers in a half dozen states from Sept. 20 to Oct. 31 and came up with results (www.laze.net/bumpers) that roughly jibed with the much larger market-research surveys. Like the larger surveys, the Political Bumpers totals added up to within a couple of percentage points of the 51-percent-to-48 result of the 2004 presidential election.

The Political Bumpers spotters, who recorded bumper stickers in favor of or against any of the candidates in the 2004 election, found that the drivers of pickup trucks and large S.U.V.'s were overwhelmingly right-leaning. But the leader of the project, Ryan MacMichael, of Leesburg, Va., said his biggest surprise was the pronounced Democratic skew of bumper stickers on economy cars (71 percent were left-leaning) and station wagons (67 percent).

The most left-leaning models with at least a dozen sightings in Mr. MacMichael's project were the Honda Civic (80-20 left-leaning), Toyota Corolla (78-19) and Toyota Camry (74-26). The list of most right-leaning was led by another Toyota, but a midsize S.U.V., the Toyota 4Runner (86-14), followed by the Ford Expedition (76-24) and Ford F-150 (75-25).

To Mr. Spinella, those bumper stickers merely provided further proof of the most fundamental difference between the two parties.

''Democrats buy cars,'' he said. ''Republicans buy trucks.''

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company