6 reasons for media’s obsession with Trump voters
Ever since the 2016 presidential campaign and election, some media outlet somewhere in America is publishing, posting, printing, or airing an interview with a Donald Trump supporter.
It could be an NPR host calling one of the many Trump voters they must have on speed dial (Googling “NPR Trump voters” gives you story after story of the endless supply of Trump-voter interviews the radio network has aired). CNN regularly airs focus group interviews of Trump supporters, asking them about everything from Trump’s remarks about the Charlottesville white supremacist rally to his condemnation of the NFL kneeling protests to the Alabama Senate election to how they trust Facebook feeds more than traditional news outlets. CNN obviously believes that ignorance sells.
Take the latest entry from The Washington Post, which published, without a trace of irony or apology, “In a pro-Trump town, they never stopped saying, ‘Merry Christmas.’” You could basically sum up the story in five words: They like saying, “Merry Christmas.”
Hey, WaPo, 83.4 percent of the voters in my town of Oak Park, Illinois, turned out to vote in November 2016, and 85.6 percent of us voted for Hillary Clinton. And just like every other place in America, we’ve always wished one another, “Merry Christmas,” along with “Happy Holidays” when appropriate. That goes with our 42 houses of worship, including a Jewish temple, a Buddhist center, a Chinese Bible church, an Orthodox Syrian church, a Unitarian church designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and so many other denominations of Christianity, from Pentecostal to Catholic. I’m sure anyone here would be glad to give you an interview.
As John Pavlovitz, a North Carolina pastor and blogger of “Stuff That Needs To Be Said,” put it:
I’m a Christian. When someone says “Happy Holidays” to me I simply smile and reply, “To you as well.”
I don’t lecture them or insist they acknowledge Christmas in a way that makes me comfortable and them uncomfortable. I don’t use the moment to feign persecution or to get in a little jab in the name of Jesus.
Because I’m a Christian — and not a jerk.
I’m not sure why the media, especially those inside the Beltway, are so dedicated to the idea of leaving no Trump voter un-interviewed, but here are some theories.
It’s Trump country now! AP has an entire series on Trump Country, now numbering 27 (!) stories. Inevitably, these Trump-supporter stories start in a small-town diner, barber shop, or beauty parlor, thus furthering the stereotype of small-town America. If it’s an audible radio piece, there is often a mention of the clinking of coffee cups. (Note to NPR: Most diners use mugs, not cups.) The reporters’ attitudes come off as patronizing, as if they’ve made a major discovery in a foreign land. “It means God, guns, patriotism, saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and not Happy Holidays,” reads the latest AP entry. Hey, didn’t Barack Obama get skewered in 2008 for claiming that voters “cling to guns and religion”?
Of course, AP is not alone. Writes Ryan Cooper in The Week:
From The New Yorker, we learn how Trump won over West Virginia, how rural Coloradans are picking up his vicious mannerisms; from The New York Times, we learn that Trump voters were mad, that unemployed coal miners had high hopes for Trump, that some in Oklahoma didn’t like his budget cuts but still supported him; from The Washington Post, we learn that in a tiny Trump-supporting Tennessee town, they never stopped saying “Merry Christmas.”
If America is now “Trump country,” why did Hillary Clinton get 3 million more votes? Trump received 46.1 percent of the vote to her 48.2 percent. And he only got 26 percent of the votes of all eligible voters anyway. HOW IS THIS TRUMP COUNTRY?
Editors feel guilty that they ignored “real” America. Look, I thought we settled this in 2008, after Republican VP Candidate Sarah Palin got lambasted for claiming that “the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America … very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.” In actuality, real America ranges from the southernmost tip of Florida to the northernmost tip of Alaska to the islands of Hawaii and everything in between (and let’s not forget Puerto Rico, either). We’re all real, and our points of view are valid, even if those on the other side of the political spectrum think we’re dumb. No one has a monopoly on “realness”—or patriotism. But apparently J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy convinced plenty of journalists to set up a permanent base in rural America.
The Week’s Ryan Cooper also says that journalists were so blindsided by Trump’s win that they are doing a group mea culpa, even if it’s a shallow one.
So reporters broke out their biggest gun — the long, textured, deeply reported, indulgent profile — and trained it on the people they supposed were responsible for Trump: the white working class. …
But in the process, they missed the people right next to them: the professional class Republicans who mostly went for Trump too, and the Wall Street goons who make up most of his Cabinet and have written all of his policy. Since the election, journalists have obscured the significant erosion in his support. And for the whole time, they have largely ignored the black and brown working class who never fell for Trump’s nonsense.
Reporters think they’ll get the ultimate “a-ha” story. Trump’s approval numbers have gone nowhere but down. So reporters figure that somewhere out there has just got to be the ultimate “See? See? They don’t like him anymore” story. Too bad real life doesn’t work that way. Voters are loath to admit they made a mistake.
In cognitive science, this is known as choice-supportive bias. A simple Wikipedia definition is “The tendency to remember one’s choices as better than they actually were, where people tend to over-attribute positive features to options they chose and negative features to options not chosen.” This holds true whether it’s for a car or a candidate. Thus, when voters pick the winning candidate, those voters pick and choose what to believe about that officeholder’s actions and traits, stressing the positives and ignoring the negatives. They don’t want to admit that they might have voted the wrong way. It’s only been 14 months since the presidential election. Sure, people have soured on Trump. But you’re not going to get many voters abandoning their man—yet. And even if a voter has denounced Trump, do you think that voter wants to be exposed on national media for falling for a con man in the first place?
News outlets think they’ll pick up conservative viewers or readers. Sorry, not gonna happen. While all of us, whatever our political persuasion, are in our own self-selected “bubbles” to some degree, conservatives who watch nothing but Fox News, listen only to talk radio, and get online information from social media and Facebook feeds that have identified them as conservatives are in the most sealed bubbles of all. Do editors at The New York Times honestly think they’ll pick up more subscriptions just because a reporter traveled to a small town in Pennsylvania? And why do you think those small-town folks are so willing to talk to them, anyway?
As commenter Scoe Jarborough tweeted, “If you’re without family and depressed this holiday season, just tell a news outlet you voted for trump and they will send a reporter to talk to you.”
It’s the new version of lazy journalism. Throughout campaigns, most stories focus on polling; any change in who’s up and who’s down creates a major narrative. It takes a lot less effort to spew out new poll numbers than it takes to explain candidates’ policy positions to readers and viewers. It also takes a lot less effort to interview a Trump voter than to explain the GOP tax scam law.
The subjects of Trump country voter pieces are mostly white. And mostly male. Despite the fact that black voters, and especially black women, carried the day for Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama, CNN spent time with a focus group of Trump voters. Most were white, and most were male. Although some of the voters had changed their minds about Trump, many were still staunch supporters.
CNN interviewed no black women as part of the segment. Of course, few of them voted for Trump in the first place. But how about a little balance about what actually drove the Doug Jones victory?
Many have pointed out that media didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time in 2009 interviewing Obama voters about “what they thought of Obama now.” Of course not—reporters were too busy interviewing tea-party activists.
Who were mostly white. And mostly male.
I doubt that media will stop with the “all Trump voters, all the time” emphasis. But some within their ranks are passing snarky judgment. Consider this from Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post, describing a fictitious scene at (where else) a diner:
Their waiter is David Mattress, a sentient robot who will be shut down if Trump’s budget is put into practice. He loves Trump, insofar as love is possible for him. When asked “Don’t you realize the contradiction of this position?” the other regulars leap up and shout at me because the last time this question was posed to him, David short-circuited and emitted large quantities of smoke. “First that magazine writer,” Linda scolds me, gesturing to a table in the corner where six other journalists sit writing versions of this same article, “now you.“
Don’t worry. In 2018, besides covering the midterm elections, the media will feature endless stories about the 2020 presidential race. And they’ll focus on how Trump supporters feel about that.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 31, 2017.