|Why the 'Enthusiasm Gap' Is Basically Nonsense
Of all the maddening terms of art that political pundits and reporters are bandying about this election season, the most maddening might be "enthusiasm gap."
It's hardly a new phrase, of course; it was widely used in the last presidential election too. But it's had a resurgence this year, particularly on the Democratic side of the race, and specifically in regard to what wags say Hillary Clinton needs to narrow.
Though the biggest gap arguably exists on the GOP side — between the mobs of passionate Donald Trump supporters and the equally passionate Trump haters -- the unexpected rise of Bernie Sanders gave the media a fresh reason to question the inevitability of Hillary Clinton.
For instance, a Jan. 12 New York Times story, titled "Hillary Clinton Races to Close Enthusiasm Gap With Bernie Sanders in Iowa," sounded the alarm: "Iowa Democrats are displaying far less passion for Hillary Clinton than for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont three weeks before the presidential caucuses, creating anxiety inside the Clinton campaign as she scrambles to energize supporters and to court wavering voters. The enthusiasm gap spilled abundantly into view in recent days."
Yeah, it spilled all over the place — across print and digital media, the cable news shows and even "Saturday Night Live." The Feb. 13 "SNL" cold open featured the spectral presence of Clinton (played by Kate McKinnon), unseen by a group of young people having dinner at a trendy restaurant.
="I mean Hillary is the most qualified candidate in history," one diner (Vanessa Bayer) says to her friends in the skit, "but at the same time, ehhh?" "Yeah," a fellow diner (Taran Killam) responds, "I mean, Hillary has every single thing I want in a president, but ..." — and then the table of four cheerfully erupts in unison: "She's no Bernie!"
At which point, invisible Clinton arrives on the scene to deliver a heartfelt (and entirely ignored) rendition of the Bonnie Raitt standard "I Can't Make You Love Me."
The enthusiasm gap is not only a tool of political punditry, it's a marketing conceit; it's a close cousin of another buzz term that won't go away: "engagement." Part of the problem might be that Sanders has had better, more engaging, more memorable advertising than Clinton so far.
Like "America," that glorious nothing sandwich of an ad, set to Simon & Garfunkel's 1968 song of the same name. A stirring montage of American heartlanders doing heartlandy stuff — hanging out with cattle, bailing hay, attending Sanders rallies and so on — it was an ad that was very easy to be enthusiastic about (as of this writing, it's been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube). It said nothing, but said it beautifully.
Bernie Buttons: Scott Olson/Getty Images; Hillary buttons: John Taggert/Bloomberg
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This was originally published on AdAge. A link to the original story follows this post.
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