A few days before Bernie Sanders lost badly in the New York primary, 27,000 souls filled Washington Square Park, many wildly cheering him on. The political media consensus interpreted the scene as evidence of surging support for the senator from Vermont. It did not occur to them that:
• The crowd almost certainly included many Hillary Clinton supporters just out to hear what Bernie had to say — not to mention some stray Republicans.
• It included tourists who, on a pleasant spring evening, happened on an exciting event and hung around.
• Some attendees were Bernie backers who had neglected to register as Democrats in time for the Democratic primary.
•The numbers at Washington Square were dwarfed by the battalions of working-class New Yorkers juggling two children and three jobs. These mostly Clinton voters were unable to attend any rally.
This last group is the subject here. It is the silent liberal majority.
Richard Nixon popularized the term “silent majority” in 1969. He was referring to the Middle Americans appalled by the Vietnam-era protests and associated social chaos. They didn’t demonstrate, and the so-called media elite ignored them.
Today’s liberal version of the silent majority is heavy with minorities and older people. Its members tend to be more socially conservative than those on the hard left and believe President Obama is a good leader.
Obamacare has brought medical coverage to 90 percent of the population, with the greatest gains among Latinos. Thus, a politician who repeatedly complains that this is “the only major country that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right” sounds a bit off.
Many political reporters belong to the white gentry that has fueled the Sanders phenomenon. Nothing wrong with that, as long as they know where they’re coming from. But some don’t seem to know about the vast galaxies of Democratic voters beyond the university and hipster ZIP codes.
In so many races — including those of the other party — reporters confine themselves to carefully staged political events and a few interviews with conveniently placed participants. From the atmospherics, they deduce the level of support for a particular candidate.
It can’t be repeated often enough that a passionate vote counts no more than one cast with quiet consent or even resignation. Here are three examples of political analysts forgetting this:
Commenting on the lively debate in Brooklyn, columnist Frank Bruni concluded that the Sanders camp is “where the fiercest energy in the party resides right now.” How did he know? “It was audible on Thursday night, in the boos from the audience that sometimes rained down on Clinton.”
So, how many people were booing? Three? Four? Who were they? They possibly could have been Hillary people trying to summon sympathy for their candidate (which the booing undoubtedly did).
The day after the packed Sanders rally in Greenwich Village, CNN looped videos contrasting that massive turnout with the much smaller group listening to Clinton in the Bronx. That’s as deep as this story went.
Early this month, New York magazine posted a piece titled “In the South Bronx, Bernie Sanders Gives Clinton Cause for Concern.” The reporter’s evidence was a sizable and “raucous” Sanders rally headlined by a handful of black and Latino celebrities.
We await the magazine’s follow-up analysis on how Clinton won 70 percent of the Bronx vote. Someone must have voted for her.
This is not to chide the Sanders campaign. Its job was to create an impression of mass support for its candidate — and job well-done. Rather, it’s to remind the media that there’s a huge electorate outside the focus of managed campaign events. And silent majorities, by their very nature, tend not to get noticed.