As of the weekend before the election, public opinion polls continue to show Biden with a lead of close to 10 percentage points in voter intentions. On the other hand, YouTube view counts still continue to show Trump with much greater social engagement. YouTube view counts are easily accessible, but they are not the entire social media landscape, and Biden may be doing better in other types of social media.
I’ll summarize my observation of YouTube ads by the Trump and Biden campaigns and The Lincoln Project. Trump’s campaign has posted some 300 videos in the last week. Many are short clips from speeches, generally with smaller view counts. I focused on 40 with the most views. Those 40 had 42 million views, 250,000 comments, and 84 percent of the 1.1 million reactions were likes.
The 60 Biden campaign videos with the most views had a total view count of 2.2 million, less than 5 percent of Trump’s total. Seventy percent of the 138,000 reactions were likes. There were 32,000 comments. The Biden campaign has turned off comments for most of its videos; for the few in which it hasn’t the comments included a great deal of aggressive trolling by Trump supporters.
The Lincoln Project posted 23 videos, received 10.6 million views, 67,000 mainly supportive comments, and 530,000 reactions, 98 percent of which were likes. Considering The Lincoln Project to be the Biden campaign’s attack dog and adding the view counts of both, they are still far behind Trump.
At this point, perhaps I should conclude that opinion polls and social media indicators point to different electoral outcomes and we should wait a few days to see which is the better indicator.
But as my title suggests, another approach would be to propose a hypothesis that reconciles the two different analyses and predictions.
My hypothesis is that Democrats have become the new silent majority in American politics. The term “silent majority” was coined by Richard Nixon to refer to voters who do not express their opinions publicly. Of course, he was referring to Republicans during the Sixties and early Seventies, a period in which the left was vocally protesting the war in Vietnam. The term has been reinterpreted in recent years to refer to “shy” Trump voters who, when asked by pollsters or the media, lie or are silent about their preferences.
In the four years of his presidency in numerous rallies and countless tweets Trump has encouraged his supporters – even the white supremacists and racists – to express themselves openly and boldly. Trump has legitimized expressions of racism, sexism, bullying, and the threat of violence. Some college classmates who are Democrats living in red state America tell me that they have become reticent about expressing themselves politically.
Trump’s supporters have become loud and proud. Online, the enthusiasm of Trump’s supporters can be seen in the frequency with which they view his campaign’s video offerings and troll Biden’s. On Election Day, they may show up at the polls as self-appointed monitors, brandishing their Second Amendment rights.
The Democratic silent majority hypothesis would argue that a majority of the electorate is poised to defeat Trump, and they are resolutely but quietly doing that. Democrats are voting in droves by mail-in ballot rather than in person to avoid the enhanced risk of both Covid and of political violence. The silent majority hypothesis would conclude that, while Republicans have been more active in the public square and the social media universe, ultimately Democratic voters will outnumber them. We’ll know soon enough.