In 2012, the political press briefly succumbed to a myopic fascination with the Republican primary electorate. This was perfectly understandable and justified. The GOP primary was the only game in town in that incumbent presidential year, and candidates’ efforts to frame themselves as in agreement with the majority of their party’s most energized primary voters almost always alienates centrist general electorate voters.
For the press, it will be tempting to reprise their 2012 shortsightedness by devoting near exclusive focus to the lively Republican primary. It would be a justifiable impulse. On the Democratic side of the aisle, the 2016 presidential primary was a foregone conclusion the minute Barack Obama accepted his party’s nomination in 2008. What’s to cover?
But the Democratic contest should provide the media with ample opportunity to highlight a fascinating and rapidly evolving political dynamic. The primary race is unlikely to be particularly competitive, but the Democratic electorate is deserving of scrutiny if only because those voters are challenging so many prevalent assumptions shared by many in the reporting community.
For example, the notion that the GOP primary electorate is composed of unrepresentative extremists is undone by this cycle’s polling. A recent NBC/Wall Street journal survey is not the first to discover that the Republican electorate is now far more concerned with national security and terrorism than they are about the economy. A full 27 percent described national security as their top priority for the federal government. “That’s followed by the deficit and government spending (24 percent), job creation and economic growth (21 percent) and religious and moral values (12 percent),” NBC News reported.
According to a January Pew Research Center survey, the GOP’s top priorities track reasonably well with the public’s top priorities.
By contrast, NBC/WSJ became the latest poll to find Democratic voters are primarily concerned with domestic issues starting with the economy and job growth/creation, but also including health care (namely, preserving the Affordable Care Act), and climate change. Only 13 percent of Democratic voters believe terrorism and national security should be the federal government’s top priority.
Similarly, the Democratic primary electorate has upended conventional wisdom by demonstrating that they aren’t nearly as concerned about Hillary Clinton getting a proper primary challenger as are the members of the political press. While 43 percent of self-described Democrats want a challenger to Clinton’s dominance to emerge, an increase of five points from March, the majority of Democrats are contented with the coronation process.
“Despite the wave of negative news, some 56% of Democratic primary voters say they remain unconcerned about the absence of a potent primary threat to Mrs. Clinton, according to the poll, down from 61% in March,” WSJ reported. “The survey also suggests non-white Democrats have rallied around the former first lady, with some 68% saying they are not concerned about the lack of a viable alternative.”
“Women, liberals and moderate Democrats are also slightly more eager to see another candidate give Mrs. Clinton a run for the party’s presidential nomination,” the report continued.
That sentiment is prevalent in the press where the fringe elements of the Democratic coalition are vastly overrepresented. But a boring primary process doesn’t sell commercials, so you’re unlikely to see many news outlets thoroughly dissecting the Democratic coalition. The conclusions would undermine a variety of cherished assumptions among peddlers of colorless purveyors of conventional wisdom.