Illustration for article titled The Biden Campaign Tries to Meme Into the Hearts of the Suburban Empathy Moms
Image: AP

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has a problem–and no, it’s not just the sexual assault allegation looming over his campaign. Biden has another problem: His digital strategists are struggling to make Biden into shareable content, now that covid-19 has forced the Biden camp to abandon traditional outreach strategies and rely largely on the internet to appeal to voters. Politico reports that the Biden campaign is trying to boost Biden’s online presence, but it appears that capitalizing on Biden’s love of ice cream or his affinity for aviator glasses just isn’t cutting it; 2008 called, it wants its memes back.

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Still, the comeback campaign is banking on some light content raise Biden’s profile, and they’ve got one demographic in particular in mind: Moms from the suburbs—read, white—who spend a lot of time on Facebook.

From Politico (emphasis mine):

In recent weeks, the campaign has been testing that vision. It posted a compilation of coronavirus acts of kindness with the tagline, “When we’re told to stay apart, we still come together.” It has pushed out posts that attempt to replicate Biden’s trenchant one-on-one moments with voters, such as a livestreamed “digital rope line.” It hosted a “Soul of the Nation Saturday” to mark the one-year anniversary of his announcement for president and a “Biden Brunch,” telling supporters that “Mimosas optional, but encouraged!”

“Empathy is just as good at getting engagement,” Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty said in an interview. “The suburban Facebook empathy moms that we think about a lot, those folks are just hungry for the contrast between the darkness of Donald Trump and the goodness of Joe Biden.”

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While brunch and mimosas are clear signals that the Biden campaign is trying to reach Women™ above all else, the push toward videos that demonstrate Biden’s relative “kindness” shows what kind of women they’re looking to attract. It’s a particular sort of voter, offended by Trump’s relative debauchery, but not, say, Biden’s own assault allegations. With this obvious demographic push—this “What Women Want” strategy—the Biden camp might as well post “lol bitches be shoppin’” while they’re at it.

But according to the numbers, it’s not sweetness that really attracts eyeballs to Biden campaign content, but the more combative, negative, anti-Trump ads that receive an audience. Who would have thought that women aren’t just moved by amiability? The suburban moms have a taste for some carnage too, not just the feel-good shit. (And perhaps they also have a taste for former President Barack Obama: Biden’s most-watched video on YouTube is Obama’s endorsement.)

At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game. While Flaherty says Biden’s video views across platforms have doubled since February—“rising from 27.4 million to 61.7 million in March and 51.1 million in April” according to Politico—Biden’s digital footprint still significantly dwarfs Trump’s. In April, the New York Times reported that Trump had a combined 106 million followers on Facebook and Twitter; while Biden has 6.7 million. The Biden camp launched its own podcast, but it flopped, prompting the campaign to start from scratch and glom off of the popularity of other podcasts, celebrities, and social media accounts instead; recently Biden has partnered with World Cup athlete Megan Rapinoe and is working with Occupy Democrats.

But this deficit in digital dominance is all the more understandable considering the fact that Biden has a tiny digital team of about 25, the number of people the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign had on its social media team alone, according to Politico. The Biden campaign’s state digital directors are reportedly training volunteers to “create content.” Meanwhile, Sanders supporters—not employees or volunteers—often made viral content without prompt, using everything from memes to Twitter fancams and other content to boost Sanders. The glut of young supporters likely influenced this organic slew of virality, something that even with the help of handsomely paid Instagram meme accounts, the short-lived presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg could never quite replicate.

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But the Biden campaign is confident they’ll catch up, even if Biden is still perplexed by his new home studio. And if in doubt, the Biden camp can always take some advice from Andrew Yang’s former campaign manager.

From Politico:

Zach Graumann, Yang’s campaign manager, said it’s not a lost cause for Biden. His main advice: Avoid artifice and don’t take yourself too seriously.

“People love when you talk about the elephant in the room,” Graumann said. “One of the elephants in the room is that Joe is older and he makes gaffes sometimes. If I were them, I’d lean into that! [...]”

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I guess we’ll see how comfortable all those “empathy moms” are with the Biden campaign’s classification.

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.

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