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Consumer Trends

Political swing states take a stand on a restaurant issue

Whether blue or red in 2020, they’re against extending menu labeling.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Regardless of how the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin figure into the 2020 presidential elections, restaurants can likely count on the support of voters there in opposing costly sodium-labeling mandates. 

A new canvass of residents likely to go to the polls in those states shows consumers aren’t in favor of requiring restaurants to reveal the salt content of menu items if that expansion of federal labeling mandates would raise prices. In each of the three, the percentage of residents opposed to sodium disclosure outstripped the proportion who want that information included on menus or menu boards even if they have to fund the addition.

Opposition to expanding the menu-labeling requirements was voiced by 46% of likely voters in Michigan, 47% in Pennsylvania and 50% in Wisconsin. Support for the update in disclosure rules was indicated by 39%, 41% and 41%, respectively. 

"People may be OK with more regulations, but in general they're not OK with paying more for the same stuff,” said Alex Conant, a founding partner in one of the firms behind the research, Firehouse Strategies. “For opponents of mandatory label, the messaging may be to tie proposed regulations to increased cost."

Conant is a well-known political figure who previously served as communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. He was the senator’s press secretary beforehand.

The survey was conducted for Firehouse Strategies, a public affairs firm, by Optimus, a research specialist. Under an ongoing collaboration, the partners survey voters on a wide range of political and social attitudes. Past research by the pair has looked at issues such as the legalization of marijuana, as well as the more usual political question of what presidential candidate is likely to get a survey participant’s vote.

The research indicates that voters with no party affiliation tend to be split on salt labeling. In Wisconsin, 63% of independents said they opposed an expansion of the regulations if they’d end up paying more for restaurants meals. The percentage was significantly lower in Pennsylvania, where 43% of unaffiliated residents said they’d favor sodium disclosure requirements. 

Federal labeling mandates went into effect May 7, 2018, after years of preparation and delay. The regulations require restaurants that are part of a chain to post calorie counts on menus or menu boards for items that are regularly offered. 

Nutrition advocates have urged lawmakers and regulators to expand the amount of information that is revealed. Sodium content and the inclusion of ingredients that could trigger allergic reactions are two of the frequently requested additions.

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