Retail politics

I’ve heard this term used in a few different contexts and I’m left confused as to what it really means. The best I can do is offer a vague idea of a candidate (and by extension, their campaign) making some sort personal contact with the constituents they hope to win over. Am I completely off-base?

Can someone help clarify this term for me? It is driving me nuts hearing the phrase “retail politics” being used so often and having it’s meaning seem blurry.

Can you give us an example of where you’ve heard it?

I mean, are you hearing it terms of actual politics or are you hearing in terms of retail stores and the politics that go on between them?
For example, there’s a HUGE chain of mega marts in my part of Wisconsin. The all sell bananas at the same price. 58¢ per pound IIRC. Except for one store, the one about a half a block from my mom and pop grocery store (‘my’ as in my family business) they sell their bananas at 38¢ per pound…the same price we have ours at (well, once cent less, but they sell everything ending in 8 and we end everything in 9). People go out of their way to come to our store to get bananas because we’re cheaper then everyone else in town (and that’s oddly important for some reason). That store is matching our price to steal some of our customers and get them into their store…that could be an example of ‘retail politics’. But that’s pretty tame. There’s a lot of pretty nasty stuff that goes on between businesses that I’ve seen in my years in the retail industry. Even after the mafia more or less backed out of it.

I’ve seen it used in connexion with the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus - that while the presidential campaign itself is large-scale politics, where the two candidate are trying to win over major sections of the population, in New Hampshire, it’s very much more one-on-one - small meetings at VFW halls, coffee meet and greets at supporters’ homes, and so on - that the average citizen has a real chance of meeting the candidate in person. So it’s called retail politics, because the candidate is making personal sales pitches to individual voters, rather than mass persuasion by major tv buys.

Retail politics is about the candidates selling themselves directly to the voters. As Northern Piper notes, it’s often in fairly small groups, like an Elks Club or something. With a smaller, more homogeneous group, the candidate can tailor a message designed to appeal to those particular voters. But it may be ad campaigns or other indirect methods as well.

The other non-retail part of politics is actually doing it – drafting legislation, making deals with your colleagues, voting on resolutions, etc.

Just thought of a better way to put it. The politician is selling his or her wares to the voters. Those could be a bunch of different things – all paraded out by the candidates to persuade a voter to spend a vote on them.

Some of their products for “sale” – personality, faith, expertise in one or more fields, experience, honesty, integrity, stances on particular issues, etc.

But just like buying a car, some features will attract one set of people but be a deal breaker for some other set.

This is basically my understanding of it as well.

I’m realizing the obviousness of the term “retail” politics as I’m writing this.

It’s “retail” rather than “wholesale”. Direct selling of the product (the politician) to the consumer (the voter) rather than doing it through third parties (TV ads, party operatives, surrogates).

Here’s an example of what “retail politics” means in practice, from a recent article on Rick Santorum:

In my part of the world (Vermont), each state representative represents 4059 people. I have talked to politicians from other states, where each rep represents tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

The response is usually something on the order of, “My God! You could shake hands with every voter in your district!”

My response is, “Yes, and that is pretty much the standard method of campaigning!”

The average candidate for a House seat spends something less than $5,000 on their campaign. They do in fact try to knock on every door in their district. In the cities, this can be done almost entirely on foot, but in the rural areas, they may have to cover a district that can include five or six towns, so much of that expense is for gasoline.

My state senator represents over 900,000 people. So I see what you mean.

I got a shock once when the mayor of my city showed up at my door when he was campaigning for reelection one year. The city has about 70,000 people, which around here is considered pretty small.