As the Democratic contenders gallop around the backstretch, political handicappers are once again obsessing over the candidates’ crowd size, the enthusiasm of said crowds and the age of the enthusiasts.
Once again, little of this should matter. We’ve been told for months that Elizabeth Warren and, to a lesser extent, Bernie Sanders are exciting crowds in a way Joe Biden does not. The visuals of their rallies seem to bear this out. Why, then, does Biden lead them in most polls, usually by double digits?
The New York Times recently reported on “signs of a disconnect between support for Mr. Biden in polls and excitement for his campaign on the ground in Iowa.” Perhaps, just perhaps, support and excitement are not all that connected.
Perhaps relatively passive Democrats — who greatly outnumber the excited ones — just want to replace Donald Trump. Although several polls suggest that any of the leading Democrats could beat Trump in a national popular vote, they show Biden beating him more easily, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, the swing states considered key to Trump’s Electoral College victory. He’s the safest bet.
Four years ago, we saw similar crowd-size delusion in the primary coverage of Sanders versus Hillary Clinton. For political spectacle, it was hard to beat Sanders’ blowout rally of 27,500 people in Los Angeles and his fabulous candlelight march through New York’s Washington Square Park that attracted 27,000, according to his campaign. “When I look at an unbelievable crowd like this, I believe we’re going to win here in New York,” he told the massive throng.
When New York state held its primary a few days later, Clinton creamed him by about 16 points. In California, she decisively won by about 8 points.
It’s an iron fact that a vote cast with gusto counts no more than a vote made with detachment. Furthermore, a 23-year-old’s vote punches at no greater weight than a 73-year-old’s.
So why do so many alleged pros fixate on superficial measurements of the Democrats’ support? Here’s a theory:
Most of the political media no longer have time for deep reporting. Rallies thus become the go-to events — as well as cheer levels at debates — used to assess how a campaign’s going. Kamala Harris enjoyed a temporary surge after she aggressively and unfairly attacked Biden for being racially asleep. It was the excitement she stirred that prompted much of the liberal commentariat to immediately declare her winner of the debate and a fast-rising star. Polls now show Biden ahead of Harris by 20 points or more.
The correspondents tend to cluster on the coasts, where activists also dwell and have their ear. Activists are active. If there’s an article on Warren or Sanders, note how many of the comments obviously come from their fan bases, if not the campaigns themselves.
Also remarkable is that almost all the talk about the enthusiasm for Warren ignores the considerable lack of enthusiasm for her among African Americans in the Southern states. Sanders does just a little better. White liberals in Iowa and New Hampshire are the voices that dominate. Wonder why.
Biden is not “inspiring”? He doesn’t have to be because Trump is drumming up passion for him. Trump will inspire Americans eager for a president who isn’t sadistic, a menace to the democracy and a national embarrassment to vote for the safety of Biden.
After years of Trumpian craziness, a Biden presidency would offer dignified leadership. Biden’s no kid, but he’s experienced. He respects expertise and would surround himself with smart people. And a more progressive running mate could move things forward as Biden sells new ideas to Middle America. For Democrats, Biden is clearly the one.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.