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Bush or Kerry? The winner unmasked

Masks of presidential candidates, as well as other political figures, are top sellers for Halloween. By Teri Goldberg

Americans may have had enough of this year’s political masquerading. But that doesn’t stop pollsters, pundits and even media outlets — including MSNBC.com — from taking surveys every step of the way leading up to the elections. Forget about the “official” poll results this season. Some retailers say they can predict the winner of the presidential race just by tracking sales of Halloween masks. (MSNBC is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC.)

The most ambitious Halloween mask poll taker this season is New Berlin, Wis.-based buycostumes.com. This is the second presidential race — the first was the 2000 election — that the costume company is publishing the sales of its Halloween masks online.

Buycostumes.com claims it’s as good a resource as the mainstream poll takers. “Honestly, we think it’s just hilarious that you can look at mask sales as a predictor as well as a phone poll or mall poll,” says Diana Krohn, company representative for buycostumes.com.

As of Sept. 30, President Bush masks were outselling Sen. John Kerry masks, 55 percent to 45 percent. One week later, on Oct. 7, Bush’s lead fell to 54 percent. The Monday after the second presidential debate, Bush’s lead slipped even further to 53 percent.

Buycostumes.com also collected data from mask manufacturers and national stores as far back as 1980 and posted these results online. According to sales figures tabulated online, Bush masks outsold Gore masks in 2000 by 14 percent despite the fact that Gore won the popular vote. Prior to that, the candidate who won the election sold the most masks for Halloween. In 1992, Clinton squeaked by Bush and then toppled Dole in 1996. Sales of Ronald Reagan masks soared in 1980 and 1984, beating out Carter and Mondale masks by 20 percent and 28 percent respectively.

A shortage of Kerry masks
A shortage of Kerry masks may skew this year’s poll results at other retailers, admits Krohn. While the Bush masks have been around since the last presidential election, the Kerry masks were not released until mid-August. As a result, smaller costume shops, which have less clout with big mask manufacturers, may have had a harder time securing shipments than large shops, says Krohn. “Even now most shops haven’t had any Kerry masks in stock, and don’t plan on it,” she adds.

AnyMask.com has already sold out of the Kerry masks, says Bryan Kerrigan, president of ABM Mask & Costume Enterprises, Inc., which runs the Ashburn, Va.-based shop. But despite the shortage of Kerry masks, sales figures still show the Kerry mask in the lead, and AnyMask.com predicts a Kerry-Edwards win in November. “We always goes for the underdog,” says Kerrigan, who also foresees the production of a John Edwards mask after the election.

Halloweenonly.com

Last year, AnyMask.com predicted a win for Arnold Schwarzenegger (the second most popular mask this year) in the California governor race and the production of an Arnold mask shortly thereafter. They were right on both counts.

At some costume shops, Schwarzenegger beats out both Bush and Kerry. "If HalloweenOnly.comhad to declare a winner it would be Arnold,”says Loretta Cochran, e-commerce manager of Johnson Smith Company, parent company of Bradenton, Fla.–based cyber shop. As of Oct. 8, sales figures show the Schwarzenegger mask in the lead at 40 percent, followed by the Bush mask at 33 percent and the Kerry mask trailing behind at 27 percent. HalloweenOnly.com sells the generic governor mask for $19.98. A clean cut-version of the governator masksells for $18.99 at buycostumes.com and $19.99 at Las Vegas-based halloweenmart.com.

If sales figures were used to determine the outcome of the presidential election, the winner would have to be Bush, says Cochran. But “given that we are a Florida company, some of the electorate would likely be uncomfortable with entrusting the task to us,” she adds.

Little interested in 'evil-doers'

Halloweenmart.com

Retailers of Halloween masks report some other trends this season:

  • Political candidates Bush and Kerry may put the Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the forefront of the political debates. But sales of the “evil-doers” masks lag far behind other masks at HalloweenOnly.com. The masks have already sold out but recent stats showed Hussein selling at a meager 1.7 percent and Bin Laden at a paltry 1.3 percent. Both masks are still available at HalloweenMart.com for $12.99.
  • Al Sharpton is a popular choice at AnyMask.com, coming in third after Kerry and Schwarzenegger.
  • Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton are still best sellers at buycostumes.com. But there’s little interest in Gore masks. At some point, you start to feel sorry for the guy.

New political masks on the scene this Halloween include: Laura Bush, Dick Cheney, Howard Dean, Colin L. Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld. All these masks are available at buycostumes.com for $18.99.

Anymask.com

Masks of world leaders, such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin, can be found at AnyMask.com for $21.

Undecided consumers or last-minute shoppers can count on another round of Halloween masks from Forbes.com, which for the last two years has posted caricatures online of rich and famous business leaders, most whose careers have taken a turn for the worse. Last year’s cast of characters included Bernie Ebber, Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski and Sam Waksal, former chief executive officers of WorldCom, Enron, Tyco and ImClone Systems respectively. Repeat offenders have included Martha Stewart and Bill Gates.

Last Halloween, Forbes.com also added “supernaturally rich” billionaires and “top-earning” dead celebrities to its printable mask collection online. Billionaire Oprah made the list for her ability to catapult old dusty classic books to the top of the best sellers’ list. Elvis took the price for “the fattest wallet in the graveyard.”

Who will make this year’s list is a “state secret,” according to an e-mail from Paul Maidment, executive editor at Forbes and editor at Forbes.com. But the masks will be available for public consumption 3-4 days before Halloween, he reassures us. When asked whether Forbes.com ever considered making masks of political figures, Maidment responded, that’s “far too scary.”