Political Pizza Pie Chart


Political Pizza Pie Chart
| published March 14, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff


Forget the burger wars, the pizza wars are here.

American-style pizza may not be health food, and certainly not by the lights of the politically-correct, health-conscious crowd, but it is still one of the most popular meals for all ages and all demographics.

That pizza is junk food is hardly in question. The average cheese and sauce pizza is loaded with fat, oozing with cholesterol, packed with sodium, and—on top of all that—is commonly adorned with dozens of things even worse, like pepperoni, sausage, bacon, onions, olives, and ham.

Pizza can be made to align somewhat with healthier eating—usually by skipping all those meat and pork products, going easier on the cheese, and substituting the bad stuff with spinach, green peppers, chopped broccoli, chopped tomato, pineapple, mushrooms, and other veggies. Abstaining from the conventional dough and using whole wheat instead also helps. Thin sliced pizza is better for you than thick, since the thinner the crust the more quickly you reduce your overall calorie intake. In the end, the extremely-health conscious can keep substituting until what’s left bears little resemblance to the circular dish most Americans consider pizza.

But the political battles over health and obesity in the U.S. are just getting warmed up, and the food fight in the kitchen will soon get hotter. The GOP, now sitting on a significant majority in both the House and Senate, may get more active legislatively in the fights over what foods are classified as unhealthy versus healthy.

And that, according to data recently reported by the Center for Responsive Politics, explains why the nation’s biggest pizza restaurants are getting increasingly involved in politics—with an ever larger slice of their money going to the GOP.

Examples: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in the election cycles of 2012 and 2014, Domino’s gave cash to the political causes of both major parties, 79.3% of its candidates’ money went to Republicans, and only 20.7% went to Democrats. Schwan gave a total of $107,100 to political candidates in that same period, with about 78% going toward the GOP, and about 22% going to Democrats.

But things get even more lopsided as the totals climb. Papa John’s sliced its political pie this way: 86.8 percent to Republicans; and only 4.6 percent for Democrats. About 8 percent of Papa John’s political cash goes to other groups.

Pizza Hut—which is owned by Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, KFC, and Wing Street—has given the most to political candidates. And it is obvious very quickly which of the two political parties it most frequently supports with its $685,369 in campaign contributions: Pizza Hut gives nearly 99% of its donations to Republicans, and only 1% to Democrats. In the fast food lobbying industry, some say that GOP stands for “Gods of Pizza.”

Altogether, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, the major pizza spinners gave $1.5 million to political candidates and outside political groups between 2012 and the end of 2014. There is no reason to expect those numbers to magically begin favoring Democrats. And there is every reason to expect those pizza dollars to keep flowing toward Republicans, at least as long as the fights over how foods are classified remain bitter and brutal.

One key element of the battle: lobbying groups and some major pizza restaurant backers are attempting to persuade legislators—in both the state houses and in Congress—to reclassify the pizza menu, shifting it away from the traditional fast food category and allowing pizza to have its own specialized segment (or, better, some say, just call pizza parlors “restaurants” and end the drama). After all, pizza hardly qualifies as “fast.” Burgers, French fries, hot dogs, fried chicken—all these things, and more, can be prepared by the standard measure of fast, which is to say within minutes. Typically, pizza is a special order anyway. Sit down in a Pizza Hut or a Papa John’s—or any of the thousands of locally or regionally owned family restaurants—and that pizza pie could take up to 30 minutes to arrive at your table. Order by from Domino’s or Marco’s, and you can expect 45 minutes to go by before that pizza arrives at the door. Pizza may be convenient, but it’s not “fast,” even at home in the oven.

Lobbyists for the pizza restaurants consider it unfair, in other words, to lump pizza in with Big Macs, Whoppers, Happy Meals, or those four-piece dinners from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

Also, critics of the health-enforcers like to point out: pizza is subjective and relative, where burgers and fried chicken tend to be standardized. What’s the difference? Individuals and families most often order pizza on a built-to-order basis. Food libertarians will tell you it is still the responsibility of families and individuals—at least in a free society—to use common sense and good judgment when eating out, fast food or otherwise. And since pizza comes in a dazzling array of varieties and can be topped with literally hundreds of items, why not skip the pepperoni, ham and Canadian bacon, and go veggie, if that’s your preference?

Pizza supporters also worry that new Federal regulations, which would require menus and store postings illustrating the total count of calories, sugars, sodium, and calories from fat to reflect the entire pizza pie—not just a slice—would give diners sticker-shock. Imagine if a bucket of KFC “original” fried chicken was required to show the total calories from fat found in that container of 16 pieces. Pizza restaurants want to be able to break the numbers down by slice.

The big pizza restaurants also have their own grievances with the big makers of frozen pizza. The restauranteurs do not want their menu items lumped in—unfairly, they say—with the likes of Totino’s, DiGiorno, Tombstone, or Red Baron, products with demonstrably higher levels of preservatives and additives, not to mention larger slices of sodium and fat. The same battles have already spilled over into schools, public and private, where pizza may be served at mealtimes—sometimes prepared from components by kitchen staff, sometimes frozen and heated, but only rarely prepared “fresh” using the basic ingredients.

In the meantime, agencies like the Food & Drug Administration and the USDA are tussling with Congress and the White House in the ongoing food fights, and pizza remains at the center.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Can Popeye’s Stay Ahead of the Fast Food Decline?; Thursday Review; March 10, 2015.

Tarnish on the Golden Arches; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; August 26, 2014.