The fading of America’s newspapers and the inability of broadcast news outlets to give every politician the coverage he or she believes they deserve, has created a convenient entryway toward podcasts. Even though some local shows don’t get significant download numbers compared to national hits, they’re reaching a targeted audience of potential voters. And that has big appeal to political operatives.
Brendan Steinhauser, a consultant working with Republican candidates, told Campaigns & Elections that he views podcasts as the modern version of an online blog. “It’s a great place to have a lengthy conversation about a campaign,” he explained. Steinhauser said while working with Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) in 2018, he pushed the former Navy Seal to appear on podcasts hosted by fellow veterans.
“If you’re trying to build your name ID, it’s a great low-cost way to do that,” Steinhauser said. A self-described fan of the medium, he also pushes candidates he works with to appear on shows beyond those that cover news, current events and politics. He suggests a candidate could leverage their personal interests to appear on podcasts that target a shared hobby or pastime.
Podcasts can also help an up-and-coming candidate grow their appeal by appearing on a small show, then leveraging that interview to score invites to appear on podcasts with a greater number of listeners. It also gives a campaign team something to share with voters, including those who don’t listen to podcasts. “You can distribute the content on your social media channels,” said Steinhauser.
The mid-year tally of podcast appearances by the 2020 presidential candidates shows that the Democratic contenders are readily embracing the platform, with more than 1,200 appearances on podcasts through the end of July. Some have been on hundreds of shows, leading one analyst to call it the “hidden primary” of the 2020 race. Podchaser also reports that President Trump has not yet appeared on any podcasts as part of his 2020 re-election bid.
Not all talk on podcasts is about policy, either. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) turned up on the season two opener of the iHeartPodcast Network’s “The Ron Burgundy Podcast” and nearly scored a running mate. When the fictional anchorman played by actor Will Ferrell asked about a potential role as her running mate, Harris responded, “Everything is on the table for consideration.”
GOP consultant Mark Harris told Campaigns & Elections she believes podcast appearances by candidates need to be more about policy talking points to connect with voters who may be listening due to the more personal nature of the format. “It’s more akin to the traditional coffee klatch,” he said.