As a close follower of political news, I have observed no parallel surge of stories about any crucial Biden demographic since his election. This is legitimately odd. Joe Biden received the most votes for president in American history in an election. He defeated Donald Trump in stalwart GOP strongholds like Arizona and Georgia. It seems like it would be a good idea to know what some of those 81 million voters are thinking.
When I asked about this contrast on social media, I got some fair and reasonable responses from the Fourth Estate. Trump’s 2016 win was surprising, whereas Biden’s was expected — if anything, the election night surprise in 2020 was that it was closer than expected. Furthermore, traditional factors explain Biden’s victory. Trump governed badly, leaving the country in worse shape than when he was inaugurated. It is not surprising that Biden won.
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts find these reasons partially, but not entirely, persuasive. It’s not like 2017 was the first time that the news media was ever interested in a key voting demographic. I am old enough to remember lots of talk about “security moms,” and before that “soccer moms,” and before that “Reagan Democrats.” Covering swing demographics has been a journalistic tradition for some time now.
Furthermore, this lack of interest in Biden voters comes at the same time the news media still seems super-interested in Trump voters. What do they think about the Jan. 6 insurrection? Do they like Biden’s infrastructure bill?
Why the lack of Biden voter interest? Perhaps the very demographic that swung the election to Biden is also the slice of America that already receives a disproportionate share of media coverage: college-educated White suburbanites. According to voter analyst David Shor, this is the group that shifted the most in voting between 2016 and 2020. Trump improved his vote share in minority demographics; educated suburban Whites, on the other hand, continued to drift away from the GOP.
The problem is that educated suburban Whites already drive a lot of media coverage about, well, everything. There is no such thing as a media trend unless three suburban educated Whites have expressed interest in it. And as the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin points out, the suburban backlash against Trump also merited a lot of coverage. Focusing even more on it runs a risk of mainstream media coverage turning into solipsism.
The biggest driver for the lack of Biden voter coverage, however, might be that the reportage of Trump voters came from a different motivation. In 2017, the interest was in how Trump voters felt about a president who was beclowning the executive branch on a daily basis. The tenor of that coverage was a befuddled national press corps venturing into parts unknown to discover how these voters felt about a president acting unlike any other president in history.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the Biden administration is doing fine. Not perfect, but fine. He is implementing popular policies. As an educated suburban White person who voted for Biden, my journalistic self is pretty confident of how my voting self would respond in one of these kinds of interviews:
JOURNALIST DAN: How are you feeling about President Biden so far?VOTING DAN: Pretty good! I like not having to check the news every hour to see if there is any new craziness. And his administration seems to be much better at pandemic response.JOURNALIST DAN: Do you support spending more on infrastructure?VOTING DAN: Sure do!JOURNALIST DAN: Are there any issues where you are dissatisfied with the Biden administration?VOTING DAN: Of course, his approach toward trade seems way too much like Trump.JOURNALIST DAN: Does this mean you would vote for a Republican in 2024?VOTING DAN: Have you heard how Republicans talk about trade these days? They are even more protectionist than Democrats!
The media will not be interested in the Biden swing voter until the president falters or we approach an election. That might be asymmetrical, but it is not entirely mysterious.