The Power of the Shock Jock’s Flock

Today, the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney serves up a piece on the “undecided voter,” that 5 percent of the voting public being chased by both campaigns. This “thimbleful of voters,” Nagourney writes, is largely “disengaged from the presidential contest and thus less susceptible to traditional tools of political persuasion.” In a deft pirouette, Nagourney also reports that at the same time “many of them are closely following the news of the day.” (How it is possible to disengage from the presidential contest while still “following the news of the day” is not explained.)

Who are these elusive few? Nagourney reports that two recent polls show they “are more likely to be white than black, female than male, married than single, and live in the suburbs rather than in large cities.” They are also “likely to be younger, lower-income and less educated than the general electorate,” and “as a rule…they ultimately go against the incumbent.” In addition, they are less likely than Bush supporters to go to church or to own a gun; only 20 percent of them “personally benefited from Bush’s tax cuts;” only 25 percent “believe things in the country are generally going in the right direction;” and just 30 percent of them “approve of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq.”

So how are the campaigns (and the campaign press) to intensify the hunt for this small, bizarre group of voters who might swing the election their way?

Enter Howard Stern, notorious shock jock. As the New York Daily News reports today (and Knight Ridder reported yesterday), a recent survey by the New Democrat Network reveals the King of All Media’s potential influence on the presidential race.

“[Stern] is listened to by 17 percent of likely voters,” the survey finds. And “one-quarter of all likely voting Stern listeners are swing voters.” One-quarter of 17 percent is 4.25 percent of all voters - more than enough to swing a close contest.

Further, as the News reports, “Stern launched a ‘jihad’ to defeat Bush after the FCC began assessing massive fines against stations that carry the jock.” Perhaps relatedly, the New Democrat Network’s survey shows that nationally Howard Stern listeners “would support Kerry over Bush by a margin of 53 to 43 percent.” In battleground states, Kerry’s support is even stronger, 59 percent to Bush’s 37 percent.

So, let’s see if we have this right…this crucial demographic consists of young, ill-educated, lower-income married females in the suburbs who don’t own guns or go to church but who do listen to Howard Stern and who feel the country is going right into the toilet.

That’s the target, gang — go get ‘em!

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.