The first-night Democratic National Convention ratings were down almost 28 percent from their levels in 2016 in what can only be called a massive disappointment for former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in their bid to oust the incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
The ratings for CBS, NBC and ABC were down a combined 42 percent to 6.7 million from the 11.6 million who watched four years ago, according to the Hollywood Reporter. On cable news channels MSNBC, CNN and Fox News, the numbers were similarly down 16 percent to about 11.98 million viewers from the 14 million viewers of four years ago.
That’s a combined 18.7 million this year, compared to 25.7 million four years ago.
While one should expect improved numbers for Biden’s acceptance speech on Aug. 20, and we’ll see how President Trump and Republicans do next week, this could be a giant red flag for Democrats that there is a major enthusiasm gap in 2020.
In a June 21-July 16 YouGov survey, 68 percent of supporters of President Trump said they were enthusiastic about voting for him, compared to just 40 percent of Biden supporters who say the same thing.
Trump gives speeches and press conferences almost every day. In contrast, we barely see Biden. Is that a winning strategy? We’re about to find out.
Now that could be beginning to manifest itself in terms of raw numbers, and it raises a question for Democrats and Biden — who continues to run his campaign virtually from his home in Wilmington, Del.: Does Biden think he can win the election from his basement?
Yes, there is a pandemic, and yes, many voters will not feel comfortable attending rallies and listening to speeches. Yet, if everyone is inside without much to do, shouldn’t ratings be higher?
The reality of modern politics are effective grassroots networks, voter identification and activation and ultimately, get-out-the-vote efforts.
You can rest assured that President Trump, his campaign and the Republican National Committee will have a robust get-out-the-vote operation that plays to Trump’s strengths as a charismatic leader for his followers.
Conversely, Democrats’ message at the moment appears to be that the virus is so deadly that it is not safe to do much of anything. Democrats are saying that schools are not safe and must remain closed. Large gatherings are not safe. In some cases going to work is not safe. Their own nominee is afraid to go outside.
Biden is the virtual candidate.
And so, the message translates to their supporters that neither is it safe for Democrats to go and vote in-person, hence their emphasis on mail-in and absentee voting. Their success or failure may come in the number of individuals they can get to request absentee ballots, especially in swing states.
Have Democrats scared their own base away from the polls? If so, this built-in, self-inflicted voter suppression could prove fatal in November.
Watch for a switch in Democrats’ messaging on get-out-the-vote later this month or next month as early voting begins to come into play, as it could be a tell of how effective they believe their virtual, mail-it-in operation is working. If they start emphasizing early voting as the safe “alternative” to absentee voting, it could be a strong signal that their efforts at activating voters from a distance are failing.
The ratings at the convention could already be telling the tale, which is that Democrats may have placed their voters into in a Covid cocoon. At the moment when Biden and Harris need their base to be activated the most, Democrats appear to be disengaged from the political process. If that spills over into voter turnout numbers, all bets could be off in November for Biden.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.