Conservatives look to podcasts for young voters
Conservatives learned long ago how to use what were once new media – talk radio and cable television – to mobilize activists. Now they’re diving into podcasting, aiming to lure a younger generation that has largely eluded them.
Liberals got to the millennial podcast audience first, thanks to Pod Save America, Rachel Maddow and others who racked up big numbers with a younger audience as they railed against President Donald Trump and a Republican policy agenda.
But in just the past few months, conservatives have begun launching and promoting shows, seeing podcasts as an inexpensive and technologically easy way to reach new voters and political workers.
“You can elevate attention to issues and ideas that will probably not appear on the front page of the New York Times anytime soon,” said Jim Geraghty, senior political correspondent for the National Review and cohost of the conservative “Three Martini Lunch” podcast.
That’s why, when Danielle Crittenden was trying to find a way to talk about women’s issues in the post-#MeToo era, she asked her 20-something children how to best reach that generation.
“They’re not going to read books about this, but they are all listening to podcasts,” she found.
So “Femsplainers” was born, a podcast hosted by Crittenden and Christina Hoff Sommers. Today it’s listed by Townhall.com as of the top 20 conservative podcasts.
Their style is typical of this new breed of podcasts. They have a cocktail or wine during the show. Their programs are not the flame-throwing, name-calling melees often identified with conservative talk radio and cable television. They often try to stay away from partisan politics altogether.
The conservative podcasts can feature hosts and guests sitting by a fire, commenting on their dog’s habits and talking in paragraphs as they methodically build arguments and try to win over listeners in a friendly way.
They have an instant star in Ben Shapiro. The 35-year-old former Breitbart editor-at-large hosts one of the nation’s most popular podcasts, giving his conservative views on current events.
Shapiro is editor of The Daily Wire, which bills itself as an “irreverent news and commentary site for a new generation of conservatives.” He routinely tries to build arguments with talking points and data.
“I think Shapiro does well because he gets it. Despite his format, his show isn’t a conservative talk radio show repackaged as a podcast,” said Michelle Cordero, host of “Heritage Explains,” a weekly podcast from the conservative Heritage Foundation that breaks down policy issues at a basic level.
Shapiro has soared because he’s not only attracted the younger demographic but has methodically built his brand. He was writing a syndicated column as a teenager. He got notice for his books, including “Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth,” which was published when he was 20, and another alleging many in Hollywood were promoting a liberal agenda.
Shapiro’s show in January ranked sixth among all podcasts, trailing the top-rated “The Daily” from The New York Times; “This American Life,” the public radio show and podcast; “Stuff You Should Know” from iHeartRadio and “Up First” and “TED Radio Hour” from NPR, according to Podtrac.
Conservatives for years have benefited from being more adept at talk radio and cable TV. But those audiences skew older.
During the week of Feb. 18-24, conservative Sean Hannity’s 9 p.m. Fox News Channel show ranked third (Wednesday) and fourth (Thursday) for the week in total viewers among all cable TV programs with about 3.5 million viewers per night. Also cracking the top 25 were shows hosted by conservative talkers Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson.
Among liberals, Rachel Maddow’s programs were among the best viewed. Last Wednesday, her show edged Hannity in total viewers. None of the talk shows, though, was in the top 25 programs watched by viewers 18 to 49 during the past two weeks.
That’s why conservatives are now slowly building support among the younger demographic with podcasts.