The main difference between wholesale and retail politics is that wholesale is geared toward the masses, while retail occurs locally and targets individual voters. Mass marketing is important for wholesale politics, which contrasts with the hand shaking and baby kissing that characterize retail politics.
Retail politics is considered the more traditional approach. It typically relies on eye-to-eye contact and is sometimes referred to as pressing the flesh or working a room. The idea is that retail politics allows candidates to convey the sincerity of their messages and hear how people truly feel.
On the other hand, the radio, television and mailed advertisements produced for wholesale politics are more apt to be based on polls and designed to create limited messages that are repeated almost endlessly. The ads are often negative, aggressive and intended to tarnish the reputation of the opposition.
The advantage of retail politics is that voters are better able to get to know the candidate personally, but this may turn out be a disadvantage if the candidate is uncomfortable, distracted, bored or insincere. It also exposes the candidate to pointed questions and disagreement.
By keeping the office-seeker scripted, controlled and somewhat under wraps, wholesale politics can help protect the candidate against that kind of close scrutiny. However, this too may come at a price if it obscures the candidate’s charm and thereby reduces his appeal to potential voters.