Since the demographic make-up of the mostly male campaign press corps is unlikely to change, the only realistic remedy is self-awareness on the part of correspondents and TV pundits who were too young to vote in any election in which Bill Clinton was on the ballot. It is not enough to skim the history of prior presidential races before getting on a plane to Des Moines or Manchester; a smart, young campaign-trail reporter should take pains to understand the emotions and memories that 20th-century history arouses in caucus-goers and primary voters. The other remedy (and it is one that I fear is being eroded by the slavish obsession with polls) is to leave the candidates behind for a day or two and just talk to voters. Polls, especially short-question automated telephone surveys and brief exit-poll questionnaires, never fully capture the nuances of how voters make a decision.

As an older reporter, I will have to make my own adjustments for the fall campaign, when younger voters make up a larger slice of the electorate than in the GOP primaries. Rather than ignoring the cultural cues embedded in a campaign’s choice of music, for instance, I have to master them. At least I don’t have to worry about a cultural gap with the current GOP presidential contenders: Newt Gingrich campaigns in a suit on Saturdays; Mitt Romney courted his wife Ann by taking her to see The Sound of Music; and fashion-plate Rick Santorum wears the kind of sleeveless sweaters that you might encounter on a 1950s sitcom. As for any gap between Ron Paul and me, I can handle it. 

 

Walter Shapiro just chronicled his ninth presidential campaign. He writes the “Character Sketch” political column for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter @WalterShapiroPD.