Media don't get it about Trump's rallies
In a must-read essay at RealClearPolitics.com, Adele Malpass explains how President Trump is "transforming" the midterms through an unprecedented flurry of campaign rallies in support of his party's legislative candidates. What's remarkable to me is that so few journalists understand her points and need to have it laid out for them:
One of the new dynamics in this midterm election is President Trump reprising the rallies that helped fuel his victory in 2016. While it's common for presidents to campaign during midterms, arena-size crowds at rallies all over the country is a new phenomenon, and these events have proven to be a powerful way to communicate with, and excite, base voters.
Trump rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (via Wikimedia Commons).
This is hardly new, as anyone with a memory able to capture and retain what happened two years ago should know.
In 2016, Trump had the ability to fill arenas in multiple states on the same day, but some in the media played down the importance of rallies even after he won the election. In response, White House aide Kellyanne Conway said in a post-election analysis: "The size of rallies matters." Recently, the president echoed that point in a tweet:
The crowds at my Rallies are far bigger than they have ever been before, including the 2016 election. Never an empty seat in these large venues, many thousands of people watching screens outside. Enthusiasm & Spirit is through the roof. SOMETHING BIG IS HAPPENING - WATCH!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2018
There are many benefits to these rallies, including offering the president an opportunity to respond to his critics and test out his base's reaction to talking points he spontaneously offers.
Only at the very end of her article does Malpass mention what is to me the most potent benefit:
And each person who attends a rally is potentially a force multiplier as they recount the experience to their friends and relatives either directly or through social media. It's hard to measure this impact until votes are counted, but the size of the rallies is an indication of something potentially powerful afoot in the 2018 election dynamics.
Let me state this bluntly. The rallies are designed to produce a corps of evangelists, people who will bend the ears of everyone they know about the wonderfulness of Trump and the evil of his critics. Nearly all of the people motivated to ask for tickets and then stand in line for hours, and maybe not get in but wait outside watching the rally on big-screen TVs in the company of other Trump fans, were already going to support Trump. The experience of sharing their convictions with a vast crowd of thousands of people just like them produces a form of euphoria that develops in like-minded crowds.
That euphoria translates into efforts to persuade family members to get out and vote, often as not filling out advance ballots and mailing them in. This is why early voting by Republican-registered voters is breaking records. Ten thousand attendees at a rally can translate into fifty thousand or more votes stirred by the evangelists.
Media people are professionally inclined to dismiss the importance of rallies precisely because they are invested in the notion that media are the principal drivers of voting behavior. The idea that face-to-face conversations could drive more votes than airtime or print space that they produce is anathema.
The models used by pollsters have absolutely no way to accommodate the effects of rally evangelists. But people who don't ordinarily vote, or who choose candidates based on hair, appearance, or other silly factors – casual voters, in other words – are far more influenced by what friends and relatives say and believe than they are by what strangers in the media say or write.
Watch where Trump speaks. We learned from the 2016 election that rallies are very strategically planned for places where evangelists will have the greatest probability of success.
I expect Republicans to overperform in this election, at least compared to media expectations.