Send in the crowds

Stephen Colbert and Herman Cain held their joint rally on Friday and drew a big and enthusiastic crowd of thousands, despite the short notice. This may not be surprising since Colbert is a popular TV personality.

I had assumed, given the raucous crowds at the debates, that Republicans are all fired up this year. Supporters of the Democrats openly worry about an ‘enthusiasm gap’. But there was a nugget in the above article that surprised me, and that is that compared to 2008, the crowds at all the candidates’ rallies are pitiful.

The pertinent question raised by Colbert’s attention grab on the day before South Carolina’s primary vote is why the four remaining Republican candidates are not drawing crowds as big and adoring as Colbert’s. Yes, Colbert is a celebrity. He’s an expert entertainer. And it’s not too hard to get a few thousand college kids to skip class on any day of the week. But four years ago at this point in the campaign, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were pulling in crowds as big or bigger. John McCain was packing the gymnasiums pretty well too. And, later in the campaign, Sarah Palin proved she could rock an arena.

This year’s candidates are avoiding big events because they do not want to be photographed in half-empty halls. Gingrich actually refused to speak to the GOP leadership conference because so few Republicans showed up.

Instead, voters have most often been invited to meet the candidates in the cramped confines of restaurants where a few hundred or even a few dozen people can look like a lot on TV.

The risk of booking a bigger venue was evident Friday, just a few miles north of Colbert’s shindig, where Ron Paul was hearing his own voice echo through a nearly empty airplane hangar. Perhaps his young supporters had abandoned him for Colbert.

If Stephen Colbert were a real conservative and a real candidate, they’d all be in trouble.

Another article says that the cheering young people at a rally for Romney in South Carolina were Mormons who had to be shipped in from Washington DC and Virginia for the occasion.

But where are the crowds? What is going on? The author of the LA Times article suggests that the reason may be that Republican “passions rise from a dislike of the man in the White House, not from widespread excitement about any of the men who seek to replace him.”

Maybe. But media analyst Bob Garfield suggests that this sense of excitement is a media-generated illusion, pointing to analyses by the Pew Trust that media coverage of the election far outstrips the public’s interest in it.

It is a bit of a puzzle.


  1. M.Nieuweboer says

    The hypothesis in The Netherlands, among other European countries, is that the Republican Party is dominated by neo-conservatives and other extreme right wingers. They only represent a minority in the country though and in fact scare most Americans off. For this reason I hope that Gingrich will become the challenger; then Obama’s re-election is guaranteed.
    Not that I’m a fan of Obama. In Europe he is seen as a politician of the centre, while I’m left wing. But I prefer a competent president in the White House whom I disagree with to a dumb ass like his predecessor.

  2. Midnight Rambler says

    It’s also interesting to note that, in comparing the super PAC spending numbers to the votes received, Colbert did only slightly worse than Gingrich and distinctly better than Romney (about $14 per vote, vs. $12 and $17 respectively).

    Granted that’s counting all of Cain’s votes for Colbert, but it’s also not counting the actual campaign spending of each candidate, which was probably equal to the super PACs; Colbert didn’t have any of that.

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