Can a Small Long Island Boutique Predict the Outcome of a National Election?

People stand outside The Monogram Shop in East Hampton. For the past three elections, including this one, the shop has tallied cup sales as a poll for public opinion. ERIC SCHMID

By Eric Schmid and Nicola Shannon

Inside East Hampton’s Monogram Shop, the air carries herbal scents of homemade soap between spires of candles and beds of personalized towels. Outside, a man approaches the front window, inspects it, and scowls. Hillary Clinton is winning.

The Monogram Shop is posting results of a makeshift political poll in their window, based on their sales of small plastic cups printed with each party’s logo.

“They practically think they’re voting,” Constance Hoagland, the shop owner’s mother, said.

Valerie Smith, who opened her shop 18 years ago, first sold cups and tallied their numbers for the 2000 election.

“She just loves to get involved in a political conversation,” Hoagland explained. “She gets an opportunity when people come in and buy the cups.”

This is the fourth election Smith has polled.

“She started from Bush and then did Obama for the two times he was elected and now this one,” Maria Perez, who works at the shop, said.

Their cup sales have correctly predicted the winner of every election they have followed.

“It’s sort of its own Marist poll, but they’ve been right, they’ve been right ever time,” Eileen Melniker, an East Hampton resident who checks the numbers weekly, said. She added that Clinton’s numbers spiked in the past week, and predicts it will continue following Donald Trump’s hot mic scandal.

Many residents of East Hampton anticipate the up-to-date polling the shop provides.

“It’s great because everyone who lives in the town is like ‘how’s it doing?’” Ayse Kenmore, a 35-year East Hampton resident, said. “You have a pride in your community and you’re curious. Most of who I know are the people who agree with me.”

While some find the store’s predictive streak impressive, Alex Gourevitch, a professor of political science at Brown University attributes the shop’s success to luck.

The octopus that predicted World Cup wins did extremely well, better than experts,” he said. Gourevitch warned against relying too much on these kinds of polls as serious data. “It is a strange feature of our faith in polls that we just shrug off the moments when polls get things wrong, but point to the correct predictions as evidence that this is hard science.”

And Yanna Krupnikov, a political science professor at Stony Brook University, attributes the shop’s success to its location in Suffolk County, an evenly divided county politically.

“The combination of being in a location that could go either way, plus a little luck, contribute to the shop being correct,” she said in an email. “It is much easier to predict the winner than the vote totals,” Krupnikov said.

The shop’s numbers show this. In the 2012 election, The Monogram Shop sold 4,842 Obama cups and 3,030 Romney cups, a blowout. But based on Suffolk County election tallies, the election was much closer. Obama only won 51% of the vote in Suffolk, not 62% as the shop demonstrated.

However, the intensity of this year’s election has only heightened residents’ interest in the poll. “If the opposite is winning, they come in and buy cups just to get the count up,” Perez said. “There’s a comment that every client makes before they leave: ‘make sure it goes in the count.”  

The Monogram Shop is not the only business getting involved in the election. Elsewhere around Suffolk County and across the country, businesses are doing the same. The Harry Chapin Food Bank on Long Island registered voters in September, and 7-11, for the fifth election in-a-row, is tracking voter opinion through coffee sales.

Melniker said she is more worried about the effects of the election rather than the poll or outcome itself.
“East Hampton is just a cross section of the world,” she said, explaining that the community in East Hampton has formed a strong social divide based on the election that will not fade after November 8th.

About Eric Schmid 8 Articles
Eric Schmid is a junior Journalism and Business minor at Stony Brook University. He really likes the combination of writing, analysis, multimedia and ideas. He is a native of Fort Collins, Colorado and consistent with Colorado culture loves outdoors activities like skiing, hiking and bicycling.