Coke, Pepsi or Mecca Cola? Why Product Characteristics Affect the Likelihood of Collective Action Problems and Boycott Success

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Politics, Groups, and Identities

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Under what conditions do individuals who profess to boycott products align actual and intended consumption habits? Inconsistency between self-reported participation and practice can help explain why few boycott campaigns harm targets despite high political consumption rates reported in surveys of Americans and Europeans. Arab boycotts are fertile yet unexplored settings in which to assess this proposition. Using data from 820 Algerian students surveyed after the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, we evaluate whether boycotters are more likely than others to weigh country-of-origin in preferences for soda, clothing, and mobile phones. Almost 60% claimed to boycott US goods - consistent with cross-national survey rates and a 2007 nationally representative survey of 800 Algerians - but fewer respondents expressed actual brand preferences consistent with this desire. We extend the political consumption literature by expanding its geographic scope and elaborating a mechanism by which product characteristics minimize or magnify collective action problems that undermine participation. Our results suggest that political consumers are more likely to maintain boycott behavior when targeting substitutable goods linked closely to identity (symbolic and visible), thereby reducing direct and information costs and enabling social network enforcement.



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