Political Reporters Wrestle With How To Depict What's Driving Voters
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And let's get a different perspective now on the New Hampshire primary. Our colleague David Folkenflik covers the media. And for months now, media outlets, including NPR, have been reporting on voter anger, which is seen as fueling the fortunes of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. David caught up with some veteran political reporters who are wrestling over how to depict whatâs making voters so mad.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The concept of anger has been present in campaign coverage since at least last summer, with echoes of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements. Itâs a constant subject of conversation among reporters, including Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.
MAGGIE HABERMAN: I mean, I think that if youâre attending Trump rallies, youâre seeing some very angry people. I think that if you're attending some other rallies, youâre also seeing some angry people. But I would say thereâs a pretty high concentration of it at Trump events, both because of who his supporters are and because his events are big.
FOLKENFLIK: I caught up with Haberman at a college hockey rink converted into a center for the media covering last Saturday's Republican debate.
HABERMAN: There is a strong undercurrent of antiestablishment sentiment. You can describe it as angry. You can describe it as sort of outsider energy. You can describe it as people - the dwindling middle class. But whatever you attribute it to, I do think it is a factor.
FOLKENFLIK: Molly Ball of The Atlantic was there too.
MOLLY BALL: This is something that weâve seen and felt with our own eyes and ears. This isn't an impression we got from reading a poll, right?
FOLKENFLIK: The sentiment is real, Ball says.
BALL: You go to these Trump rallies, and you talk to people. And I've talked to dozens of people at these events and at Bernie Sanders rallies too. And you ask them, are you angry? Or is this just some kind of, you know, pundit stereotype. I don't want to be pontificating from an armchair. And they say, no, Iâm P. O.-ed (ph). Iâm really mad at this, this and this. And it's not a formless anger. Thereâs some specific targets for it.
FOLKENFLIK: Americans may well think the country is more angry than it really is. A poll from Monmouth University late last month showed that more than 60 percent of Americans believed most of the country was angry at Washington, D.C. In fact, it's more like a quarter, which is real but not a jump from recent levels. I met Daryl Drejza during a Sanders event at a College in Nashua. Heâs a semi-retired limo driver.
DARYL DREJZA: Iâm annoyed. It's sort of like we need to have the â60s all over again â you know, the social injustice and Vietnam War and all that sort of stuff.
FOLKENFLIK: Drejza points to people he says are cheating the system - Wall Street executives and people in the U.S. without legal status.
DREJZA: Youâve got to help people, but you canât also get scammed by people that arenât even supposed to be here. And I'm paying for it. I can't pay my freakinâ mortgage. Iâm old. I should be retiring. I have to work a little bit, you know?
FOLKENFLIK: Drejza supports Sanders. But he has a backup.
DREJZA: If he doesn't get it, I might just want to blow up D.C. and vote for Trump â totally just vote for that fool Trump and just see if he could blow up D.C.
FOLKENFLIK: The reverse is true too. Some Trump supporters here told me they find Sanders appealing. Polls by The Washington Post and ABC News suggest Republicans are markedly more angry than Democrats, as well they might be after eight years of a Democratic White House. Hostility flared into the open at several Trump events, particularly against journalists and people of color. Although, thatâs died down.
ROBERT COSTA: Iâm encountering an aversion to political correctness at every one of these Republican events. The voters are saying things they never said four years ago or eight years ago in polite conversation or private conversation with reporters.
FOLKENFLIK: Thatâs Robert Costa of The Washington Post.
COSTA: Theyâre just unloading on what they see as sweeping changes in the culture, what they see as a government in Washington that doesn't work for them. And theyâre just letting it go.
FOLKENFLIK: Costa says the Republican Party appears to be at war with itself.
COSTA: All of us reporters on the campaign trail, weâre dealing every day with a Republican base thatâs hard to understand because they're not really moving on an ideological access. Itâs a visceral one. And weâre dealing with emotions and feelings weâre encountering with voters. And how that plays out in a race, itâs very jumbled.
FOLKENFLIK: The reporters, Costa says, are trying their best to make sense of it all, much like the voters themselves. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Manchester, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.