In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign recruited an all-star team of designers to create cool, grassroots branding. In 2020, the Biden team has taken a similar approach, landing hip fashion designers and illustrators to produce merchandise and campaign materials.
But there can be a disconnect between the youthful, coastal liberal aesthetic, and the unapologetically unpolished slogans of Trump’s middle-America base. Nowhere was this more clear than in 2016, when the perfectly coiffed Clinton campaign was undone by a red hat with an odd-sounding slogan from the Reagan era: Make America Great Again.
So to survey the field of design leading up to the November election, I opted not to dig through the campaign sites themselves, but to take a look at where most of us actually shop: Amazon.
Because it’s Amazon that’s the great equalizer, as approximately 60% of American households have a Prime membership. Amazon is a place where you will literally find Trump flags in the list of best-selling lawn and garden goods, right between Traeger hardwood smoking pellets and Terro liquid ant bait traps. And Biden and Trump paraphernalia have both topped best-selling lists across Amazon categories including yard signs, patio equipment, and baseball caps.
All of us already know what Trump and Biden are selling. Here’s a look at what America is buying—at least as of the last week of September.
The best-selling yard signs are politics as usual
When I took a first look at the best-selling yard signs on Amazon, my initial surprise was that I couldn’t tell much of a difference between Trump and Biden. The number one selling item is a very traditional, blue, white, and red sign for Trump/Pence. The number three selling item is pretty much the same thing for Biden/Harris.
One twist is that the second best-selling sign, “We Believe,” represents a roundup of liberal ideals like Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights, but doesn’t reference Biden/Harris directly whatsoever. It’s essentially their messaging without their names.
Not until you get to the seventh best-selling sign do things get feisty. Here we get a Biden/Harris sign that captures the VP’s aviators, an icon that is becoming more and more synonymous with his name. Then at #11, there’s a black sign that reads “LOSER!” topped by Trump’s yellow hair. (Another play on Trump’s hair comes in at #42, with the word “NOPE”.) They aren’t just partisan signs but portraits of liberal anger.
There’s nothing at all crude from the Republicans until you get to #24, “Say no to creepy Joe,” which features a deranged-looking Joe Biden, peeking over what looks like a fence. To add to the gross imagery, his hands are undersized, like those of a child.
Then at #27, you find your first and last reference to the “Trump Train”. At #31, you get your first and only rainbow for Biden/Harris. And then a liberal-cheeky “Bye Don” at #32, which I know in my head is anti-Trump, but always reads like they’re saying goodbye to Biden for some reason?
To add to the strangeness of it all, these top-selling signs are interspersed with bloody Halloween decorations reading “Beware!” and “Go Back!” Indeed, 2015 sounds like a little slice of heaven right now.
Flags are dominated by conservatives
While we have no idea how many of each sign is actually selling, the results seem pretty evenly split between Trump and Biden. Where there’s a far more marked difference is the category of flags and banners, which is dominated by Trumpers.
Three of the top five items in this category are Trump flags. The fifth is a Blue Lives Matter flag (the conservative counterpoint to the Black Lives Matter movement—and for many, a way of saying “I’m with Trump” without literally saying it.). Trump flags appear to be vastly outselling our own American flag.
It’s not until number #10 and #12 that we hear from liberals, with the apathetic “Any Functioning Adult 2020” and another “We Believe” sign, respectively.
Other notables are a “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag at #23. (Technically speaking, this phrase has no overt political affiliation. But in its contemporary use, it’s come to symbolize racial oppression.) Then you have good old Rambo Trump landing at #37.
Trump dominates men’s baseball caps
I was both equal parts disappointed and relieved to find that Trump and Biden had no presence in the top lists for Pet Supplies, Collectible Currencies, or the singularly named Baby. But of course, in 2020, Trump still dominates the political baseball cap. In fact, Trump has six hat listings in the top 50 to Biden’s zero.
His top-selling hat, coming in at #4 overall, is actually available in a variety of prints and messages. The hero image is a red hat with thick stitching and a shadow embroidery. Most say “Trump” in big letters and “Keep America Great” somewhere else. They come in red, white, blue, pink, and camo. And most feature a Trump-hair-gold signature on the bill. For whatever reason, my first thought when I see it is “Guy Fieri.”
It’s not until #6 that we see a traditional MAGA hat. Then we get a couple more camo hats down the line, and then still more MAGA.
One surprise is that Amazon goes so far as to suggest its best-selling Trump hat under the “Gift Ideas” section of the baseball hat page.
Neither candidate shows up in top-selling clothing. But that doesn’t mean that this section is devoid of political allegiance. RGB does make an appearance at #100 under the “Novelty and More” section.
In any case, we do see some differences between Biden and Trump on Amazon. Namely, conservatives like to buy flags and hats more than liberals. Meanwhile, both liberals and conservatives are taking their share of superficial, crude, and sometimes outright strange shots at one another—while the most cutting statements are actually tacit symbols that are officially unaffiliated with any campaign, like the single blue line on a black and white American flag.
Yet, the most popular political designs we see on Amazon are remarkably safe (even dated), and frankly, Trump and Biden are nearly indistinguishable from one another when packaged in these red, white, and blue designs. During the most heated election year of our lifetimes, it’s an approach to political discourse as generally as bland and average as Amazon itself.