It's election season again, which means BuyCostumes.com, an online costume retailer, is busy predicting who will become commander in chief. Since its founding, in 1999, the New Berlin, Wisconsin-based company has accurately called the winner of every presidential election.
The company uses a simple, albeit unscientific, metric: the sale of $1 paper masks in the likenesses of the candidates. Each sale counts as a vote toward that candidate.
BuyCostumes.com's CEO, Daniel Haight, came up with the idea during the 2000 election season, when the company's George W. Bush and Al Gore masks started selling like crazy. Since then, the 500-employee company has been on a winning streak. The mask poll even called the 2008 primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by a fraction of a percentage point.
Of course, mask polls, like straw polls, are fickle. For much of this winter, Ron Paul was winning the poll by a landslide. Paul was also an early front-runner in the 2008 primary mask poll, before John McCain took the lead.
"Ron Paul supporters are crazy about him," says Haight. "I've talked to those customers, and they say, 'He is the answer for America, and we want to make sure people see his face everywhere they go.' "
It's not just supporters buying the masks, though. Haight says plenty of customers are purchasing them to ridicule candidates. The most common target? "It's got to be our boy Newt Gingrich," says Haight.
Whatever the reasons or results, the stunt is driving sales—in 2008, the company sold more than 20,000 masks. Plus, it's fun. "With the political climate being the way it is," Haight says, "there aren't a lot of niceties people can cling to. We think this is a fun way to let people throw their hat in the ring and show their support."