There “is a growing American tendency to be catastrophically gloomy about the direction of this country, even as we’re resiliently sunny about our own household’s future.” – Derek Thompson, The Atlantic – June 1, 2022

One aspect of the Gulf South Index has stuck with me throughout the time we’ve tracked what people believe, choose and buy in the Gulf South…even when the world outside the Gulf South looks like a total mess, the people in this region remain more positive about their own lot in life.

While the determined Gulf South Index team was preparing for a presentation to the Southern Public Relations Federation annual conference a few weeks ago, we came across the quote above with the headline of “Everything is terrible, but I’m fine.” An interesting thought for sure, and upon further reflection about the Gulf South consumer, it’s true.

The closer we get to our own driveways, the better we feel about the world.

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“CONSUMERS ARE JUST REALLY PISSED OFF ABOUT THE WORLD.” – Claudi Sahm, fmr. Economist at the U.S. Federal Reserve.

From 10,000 feet, it’s tough out there.

Over the course of the year, consumers have reported numerous lifestyle changes to accommodate raising prices everywhere. Resonate reports that as of June, 28% of consumers cut out some non-essential purchases, and almost 24% have eliminated all non-essential purchases. People choosing to go out less increased by 13%. Those buying cheaper brands jumped 12%.

We are finding out that brand loyalty has a price limit.

At the same time, when people here and across the U.S. are asked if they still believe in the American Dream, more citizens answered yes in 2022 than they did in 2021. We are pissed off about the world, but we see better days ahead for ourselves.

Closer to home, Gulf South residents believe that this region has a more distinct culture at a higher clip than the rest of the U.S. – 49% to 37%, along with good natural resources to offer – 46% compared to 33%.

Fifty-nine percent of the Gulf South say that they are in good shape or doing okay financially, the same percentage as the rest of the U.S.

The higher level of education and the more money you make, the better you feel about the Gulf South and your place in it. Men between 18-44 years old feel better off in 2022 than in 2021, 20% higher than the general population. More than half of moms with kids under 18 in the Gulf South believe 2022 will end up better than 2021. More than two-thirds of folks with college degrees or higher in our region believe that they can achieve the American Dream. Three-quarters of the same audience believe that the Gulf South offers great career opportunities.

Broadly, we see the world on fire. Individually, more of us think we are good.

Before we get accused of finding too many unicorns and rainbows, it is important to note we are looking at trends and those trends can reveal certain things and not others. The Gulf South Index does reveal that this part of the country struggles among citizens earning less.

Our neighbors throughout Florida are dealing with yet another major hurricane that will challenge our collective and individual determination for years to come, as similar situations have challenged every family between Lake Charles and Panama City in the last 15 years.  

There are struggles. Knowing that we are more optimistic about our own fates than we are about the world-at-large gives us insight into how we can communicate effectively in the face of adversity.

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“PESSIMISM NEVER WON ANY BATTLES.” – Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Adopting more of a “closer to my driveway” approach in our outreach to the audiences most important to us is an opportunity for businesses and organizations.

Worldwide headlines – inflation, war, drought, elected leadership – illustrate a world on fire. These stories are tragic and devastating. At the same time, it can cloud our messaging. We must be careful not to transfer the worldwide or even nationwide perceptions of different issues on the local populace.

As we communicate, we must take extra time and effort, especially now, to understand the mindset of the people most important to us.

We must manage our trust relationship we have with our most important audiences and choose our media platforms for communicating our messages wisely. The closer we get to our own driveways, the more we trust the news and information closest to that driveway. In the Gulf South, we still trust local news, voices and messages. Nationally, businesses remain a person’s most trusted entity. Why? My guess is that we spend most of our time with the people we work alongside. They are the people right next to us, whether that is in-person or now virtually.

As we look around our communities, we can be realistic, but optimistic in our messages. There may be national despair, but there is also individual hope.

Marc Ehrhardt


The Ehrhardt Group