Restaurants lean strongly toward a re-election of Trump

A straw poll conducted during the National Restaurant Association's Public Affairs Conference found a nearly 2:1 preference for the Republican ex-president.
From left: Dana Perino, Harold Ford, Jr. and Sean Kennedy | Photo by Peter Romeo

If the presidential election had been held this week, restaurateurs would have cast nearly twice as many votes for Donald Trump as they did for Joe Biden, according to a poll conducted during the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference.

The straw poll revealed that 65% of the nearly 600 attendees prefer Trump to Biden, who drew just 35% of the vote in a straight head-to-head contest.

The 30-point preference for the former president seemed to surprise the political commentators on stage at the time, Dana Perino and Harold Ford, Jr., two co-hosts of Fox’s popular commentary program “The Five.” They participated in an opening panel moderated by National Restaurant Association EVP of Public Affairs Sean Kennedy, who also marveled at Trump’s lead.

Ford, the former Democratic congressman, remarked that the 2024 presidential race is still in its early stages. Though Trump and Biden have emerged in primaries as the overwhelming choices of the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, neither has been officially designated the nominee. Their parties’ conventions will not be held until this summer.

Perino, a Republican who previously worked in the White House of George W. Bush, noted that political crises seem to erupt every week, if not daily, and any calamity could signal a shift. But she noted how unshakeable Trump’s hardcore loyalists have been, characterizing them as a movement rather than a mere following.

Ford aired the possibility that votes could shift in late summer as parents stocked up on back-to-school supplies for the coming school year. A significant drain on their wallets could swing votes one way or another.

Perino aired her belief that the inclusion in the race of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an independent, could also prove a significant factor. Before attendees were asked to choose either Trump or Biden as the candidate they favor, they had a chance to vote across what could be the whole slate of candidates in November. In that ballot, Trump also prevailed, but by a smaller margin, drawing 44% of the vote to Biden’s 31%. Kennedy’s share was in the low double digits.

The follow-up vote, where Trump won by a 30-point margin, suggested that Kennedy’s following would be more likely to shift to the ex-president than to the current occupant of the Oval Office if the scion of the famous family should drop out of the race.

The NRA’s Kennedy illustrated how readily the situation could change by recounting how attendees voted during last year’s Public Affairs Conference. At that June 2023 gathering, participants were asked to indicate whom they expected to be the Republican Party’s presidential candidate in 2024.

Nearly half (49%) the attendees of the earlier gathering said they expected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to be the standard-bearer, as compared with the 25% who chose Trump.

What are the issues?

Regardless of whether attendees voted for the Republican or the Democratic candidate, their biggest political concern is inflation, the informal polls showed. The candidates’ stands on abortion were more of a determinant for the participants who voted for Biden than they were for those who preferred Trump.

The Public Affairs Conference is the NRA’s annual gathering for restaurateurs who want to weigh in on issues critical to the industry with their U.S. senators and congressmen. Attendees spend a half-day getting a view of the current political situation from pundits, lawmakers and the NRA’s government affairs specialists.

In addition to Perino and Ford, this year’s speakers included Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, who’s been supportive of the restaurant business’ efforts to dampen credit-card processing rates. He is the co-sponsor of the Credit Card Competition Act, which aims to rein in swipe fees by fostering competition to the only two parties that currently provide that function to restaurants, Mastercard and Visa.

In a quick interview with Restaurant Business, the senator expressed his opinion that action on the bill will likely happen this legislative session, a view that is not shared by many because of Congress’ inability to push through much legislation of any sort.

“I’m an inpatient guy,” said Marshall.

Check back for more coverage of the Public Affairs Conference over the next few days.

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