Thursday, 17 September 2020 12:40

OPINION: Like 2016 all over again?

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I’m having a sense of déjà vu about the election. Maybe it’s just PTSD from 2016, but, back then, I believed Hillary Clinton would win in a walk at this point in the election. The first cracks in my belief came when I drove across the heart of the state along rural roads. Virtually every yard had a Trump-Pence sign. Stores had them, too. And yet the news articles I read gave little indication of the momentum.

This weekend the headlines read like 2016. The New York Times read stated, “Trump Onslaught Against Biden Falls Short of a Breakthrough.” An Al Jezeera headline read, “Trump, struggling to define Biden, steps up Harris attacks.” The Washington Post reported, “Republican worries rise as Trump campaign pulls back from television advertising.”

Across rural North Carolina, those headlines are considered little more than fake news. The Trump-Pence signs are back in force and the people displaying them are confident in Trump’s coming victory. They don’t believe the polls that were wrong before, despite how vociferously pollsters defend their accuracy. And the Trump team is working hard.

Over the weekend, I spent a few hours with a friend who now lives in a liberal enclave in northern Chatham County. She’s a solid Biden supporter, but she’s not a Democrat. She’s a college-educated single woman in her 50s who is registered unaffiliated. She’s a sporadic voter who has voted in every presidential election of the last 20 years but only a couple of midterms and took a pass in 2018. She’s voted in a few primaries, both Democrat and Republican. I doubt she knows who Louis DeJoy is or that Trump called war heroes “suckers” and “losers.” She owns an arsenal of guns and spends more of her time on farms than in towns.  


She told me flatly, “Donald Trump is going to win again.” She said that when she drives across rural North Carolina to visit horse farms, the yards are littered with Trump-Pence signs and she doesn’t see many Biden signs, even in liberal towns like Chapel Hill and Pittsboro. She also says the Trump campaign regularly texts her while she has yet to hear anything from the Biden campaign. 

A few weeks ago, “two preppy guys in a BMW” pulled into her driveway and put Trump door hangers on her door. She said they drove off after they delivered the hangers without stopping at any other house. In other words, they targeted just her while ignoring her more liberal neighbors.

Maybe the Biden campaign has already identified her as a supporter and aren’t targeting her anymore. I don’t know, but she’s not getting information from the Biden campaign. I am concerned that Democrats are once again investing too heavily in television and too little in other means of contact. I haven’t seen any ads that aren’t in my #NCPOL Twitter feed because I long ago gave up on expensive cable subscriptions and now rely on Netflix, Hulu, Apple and other streaming services. I adopted the younger generations’ viewing habits. 

According to a Pew study in 2017, less than half of adults under the age of 50 have cable subscriptions. Most are now getting their information and entertainment from online streaming services. In particular, women are less likely than men to watch cable and more likely to stream their information. I suspect those numbers are even worse for cable three years later. 

If the Democratic base is made up increasingly of young people, especially women, who aren’t using cable or network television, Democrats should be investing more heavily in digital and field operations. If they are carefully targeting voters based on behaviors and demographics, my friend should be getting a lot of Biden information on some medium or in person. They won’t reach her on television. 


I’m at that point in a campaign where I start to worry, maybe unnecessarily. Biden’s numbers look good and a number of pundits and prognosticators have pointed out that we’re just as likely to see a Biden tsunami as we are a Trump victory. Polls this year are probably more reliable than they were in 2016 and they were pretty close back then. Still, hearing my friend who is the quintessential swing voter say she felt certain Trump would win is unnerving.  

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant.