NEW YORK — Two weeks before the highly anticipated presidential election, Barack Obama is pulling ahead among footwear players.
Mirroring national polls, roughly 56 percent of the footwear industry said they would vote for the Illinois senator in the Nov. 4 election, according to a recent Footwear News poll, conducted online from Sept. 30-Oct. 7.
An unprecedented number of people responded to the survey, reflecting the strong level of interest being paid to this election cycle. Of the nearly 460 responses, Obama received a total of 254 votes, with Arizona Sen. John McCain getting 187 votes, or about 42 percent. Just 2 percent of the respondents said they were undecided or would vote for a third-party candidate.
Surprisingly, the split in votes did not fall strictly along party lines. While Democrats did outnumber Republicans in the poll by about 4 percent, the majority of respondents (35 percent) considered themselves to be Independents.
Participants in the survey represented the entire spectrum of the footwear industry, from retail and wholesale chairmen and presidents to DMMs, managers, designers, buyers and sales reps. Almost half said they were primarily a vendor, while a quarter were primarily retailers, and another 15 percent were both. The remaining 13 percent had other functions, including manufacturing, consulting, analyst coverage and public relations. And 55 percent of respondents worked for a company with revenues of $10 million or more.
The reasons for their voting choices varied widely. Those favoring Obama said they thought he could bring much-needed change to the leadership in Washington, D.C. They also cited his intelligence and composure, along with his progressive tax and health care plans.
In a write-in portion of the survey, respondents explained their vote. “We need to reevaluate the way we have been doing things in this country lately,” said a retail manager. “One of the biggest expenses that most American businesses have to deal with these days is health care, and McCain’s idea on that just makes little or no sense.”
A director at one large company said, “Barack Obama has a vision and an actionable plan to get us there. He has an understanding of the many issues the country is experiencing and has the relationships and presence to work with politicians, citizens, corporations and lobbyists to move forward.”
Meanwhile, those favoring McCain said his government and military experience and his knowledge of foreign policy were big selling points.
One retail buyer said, “As much as I hate to put the ‘same old politics’ back in office, it seems that we need experience over new. New is not proven and could be tragic at this fragile state.”
Others, who considered themselves fiscal conservatives, backed his policy plans. “The economy will not be solved by bigger government and higher taxes,” said the president of a large vendor firm. “McCain will put money into the market that will facilitate hiring, spending and a quicker turnaround than Obama.”
However, the bad news for McCain is that his VP pick was viewed as a liability by most footwear voters. Whereas 53 percent said Joe Biden had helped Obama’s campaign, only 48 percent thought Sarah Palin had helped further McCain’s run.
Many respondents questioned her qualifications to be “a heartbeat away from the presidency” and said they were troubled by her lack of experience with national and international issues, including the war in Iraq and the economy.
“I do not see her as the leader of the nation — even in Naughty Monkey shoes,” said one company director, referring to Palin’s many campaign appearances in the brand.
When it came to the issues, a large number of respondents expressed concern about energy, health care, taxes and homeland security. However, they were almost unanimous in their worry over the economy. Roughly 95 percent said it was the most important topic to them in the election.
And even more people thought it would be the linchpin in this election: A whopping 98 percent said the economy would have the biggest impact on November’s decision. The second-most-influential topic will be Iraq, according to respondents, followed by taxes, energy and health care.
That shows that little has changed in the months since the primary elections, when FN polled footwear execs about the candidates and issues. In that late-January survey, respondents said the economy was top-of-mind, followed by health care and taxes. And their overall candidate of choice was Barack Obama.