In various news articles, I've come across the phrase retail pol. What does it mean?

Here are some examples from online:

Matt Viser, Boston Globe, via tweet:

What kind of retail pol will Jeb be? @ananavarro insists he won't guess the ages of young children, like Romney.

David Paul Kuhn, The Atlantic, Forget the Retail Politicking: Presidents Are Made Wholesale

Barack Obama won the presidency. And Obama is no retail pol. This is why President Obama struggles to convey the spirit of these hard times.


In 2008, Mike Huckabee was Republicans' best retail pol. Huckabee, however, still languished in single digits until his second place finish at the ultimate foe retail event, the Iowa straw poll.

Double Down: Game Change 2012 By John Heilemann, Mark Halperin

As a retail pol, Santorum still left much to be desired. He was windy, dour, and digressive -- senatorial in all respects. But his crushing defeat in 2006 seemed to have imbued him with a degree of humility, and he exhibited none of the slickness, phoniness, or cartoonishness of some of his rivals.

Evan Osnos, New Yorker, Born Red

Western politicians often note that Xi has the habits of a retail pol: comfort on the rope line, gentle questions for every visitor, homey anecdotes.

From the Atlantic title, it appears retail is meant to be in the opposite sense of wholesale, and from the examples, pol probably means politician, but I'm still not 100% sure of its meaning.

What is the phrase's definition? That is, what is a retail pol and what are their characteristics?

What is the origin of this phrase?

2 Answers 2


A /politician/politico/pol/ that practices, well . . ., retail politics. :-)

Several definitions for your comparative pleasure:

retail politics noun 1. (functioning as pl) (informal) the practice of a politician soliciting in person for votes from the public


Dictionary of Politics: Selected American and Foreign ... - Page 440 Walter John Raymond - 1992

Retail Politics. A mode of campaigning for public elective office by reaching important individuals in person on the local level rather than through the media. Although exposure through the media—radio, television, and the press—is important in any effort to reach the voters. all politics is considered local, therefore there is no substitute for a personal encounter. Grass-roots issues are more important than national or international problems according to this theory.


A Glossary of U.S. Politics and Government - Page 150 Alex Thomson - 2007

retail politics Political strategies and campaigns that are aimed at selling a candidate and policies to a broad, mass audience. Issues are generalised, and actions designed to generate mass appeal. The opposite of ‘retail politics’ is ‘wholesale politics’, where strategies are more focused, and tailored to appeal to a select group of more demanding customers/voters/interests.

  • 1
    That last definition seems to be backwards - I'm not sure they've got that the right way around. Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 4:45
  • I found it myself quite confusing, so I went out and found the 2nd:-) Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 4:47

Retail pol is an abbreviated form of the longer phrase retail politician, meaning a politician who practices retail politics.

The central notion implied by the term retail politics is that of selling one's ideas to individual consumers (voters), preferably in small-group or one-on-one settings—as opposed to wholesale politics, where one tries to sell one's ideas to a mass audience, as through TV ads or televised "stump" speeches or interviews at major media outlets.

In its classic form, retail politics involves having a candidate go door-to-door in his or her district, meeting and interacting with individual voters in hopes of making a positive personal impression on each of them with regard to the candidate's likability and sensible views.

Grant Barrett, The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang (2004) includes an entry for the closely related term retail campaign:

retail campaign n. precisely targeted electioneering. Cf. WHOLESALE [CAMPAIGN] [Cited examples:] 1965 New York Times (June 5) 18: His organization for the mayoral campaign will resemble a supermarket chain, even to the opening of 76 store-front branches in the city's 76 Assembly District. "This is going to be a decentralized, retail campaign." 2000 Marketing News (Feb. 28) XXXIV 10: The presidential campaign is shifting from town halls to television sets as candidates trade the retail campaigning of Iowa and New Hampshire for a multistate advertising blitz. 2002 V. O'Regan & S. Stambaugh, in White House Studies (Sum.): This retail politics is nearly impossible in highly-populated states dominated by mass media markets and wholesale campaigning. Sparsely-populated states are more conducive to retail campaigns where the voters expect to meet and know the candidates personally.)

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