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Shopping at Wal-Mart? You might be a Republican

Voted for Romney? Time to hit the Wal-Mart. More of an Obama person? It's more likely Bloomingdale's and Blue Nile are for you.

The American political system is often a fight between right and left, red and blue. And that dichotomy carries through to our purchasing choices, too, according to data provided to CNBC by NPD Group's Checkout Tracking.

Residents of states that went for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election were more likely to patronize one-stop shops such as Target and Wal-Mart, the type of place where you can get decorative soaps and engine oil under the same roof. Residents of the states that re-elected the president spend far more at high-end retailers' online site and grocery-delivery companies like FreshDirect, the data show.

Some of the findings could be ascribed to regional difference: Wal-Mart may be plentiful in the red-leaning Bible Belt but is more limited in urban areas that tend to vote left. The megastore has yet to gain a foothold in the liberal bastion of New York City, for example.

"The themes definitely show different types of spend patterns at different levels," said Andy Mantis, executive vice president of NPD Group. "Some of them could be geographical or not. Regardless of the drivers, they are differences in Democrat and Republican states."

Shoppers in red states, for example, visited an average of 26.8 retailers over the six months while those in blue states went to 39.4, suggesting blue staters go to smaller, more specialized stores.

The implications of this kind of market research is important for candidates and political strategists alike: Even with huge sums of money being thrown at political advertising both online and in person, campaigns have to be judicious with their ad spending. Knowing your market can make the difference between finding a vote and wasting thousands.

The differences can be slight. Based on the six months included in the study, NPD found 34 percent of blue states' online spending went to Amazon.com while 32 percent of red states' did. The Checkout Tracking Online system has over 2 million users who opt in to having their purchase behavior tracked. That's a pretty solid sample size for market research into consumer behavior and shopping trends.

So even with close election results, different shopping patterns emerge. Residents of blue states over-indexed online retailer Gilt by 160, meaning shoppers were 60 percent more likely to be from a state that voted Obama. Red states over-indexed by 150 at both Wal-Mart and QVC, a home-shopping channel.

"Home-shopping networks are really about a person connection," Mantis said, pointing out that many of the red-state stores cater heavily to family-oriented shopping. "The blue states are more brands and less a personal connection. That struck me as a different interaction for the shoppers."

Even in terms of category the differences can be stark. Residents of blue states over-indexed on jewelry and watches by 133 and gift cards by 125. In another study, this one with a sample size of 50,000, NPD figures show that blue states over-index total spending on beauty products at 145. That residents of red states spent nearly half what blue staters did on shampoo and makeup. On the flip side, red-staters over-indexed 125 points in the automotive spending.

One surprising finding was that red states over-index in shopping at Etsy, the Brooklyn-based site that allows craftspeople to hawk their wares. Amazon recently launched "Handmade at Amazon," the megaseller's attempt to compete with the artisanal marketplace.

Mantis speculated that it could be a matter of scarcity that drives red-staters to the site.

"There are few places in some of the red states and rural areas to find that kind of thing," he said. Etsy is really "opening up a buy-in channel that isn't available outside of urban areas."