Updated: May 12, 2019
Sunday began with a Democratic field of presidential candidates larger than those still in contention to win the Masters. Twenty democrats have either declared or launched exploratory committees and that field, unlike the Masters one that shrunk as golfers missed the cut, is only likely to keep growing.
About an hour after the tournament conclusion, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg officially joined the race. Buttigeig and almost all of his 19 opponents face a similar situation as the golfers that entered Sunday: most are not household names even if they’ve had some success.
Brooks Koepka is arguably as well known to the average sports fan as Cory Booker is to the casual democrat voter. Someone could probably be able to tell you the former is a golfer and the latter a senator, but their record of back-to-back US Open champion or criminal justice reform advocate would be virtually unknown.
There was, however, only one name that dominated the conversation. If Cory Booker is Brooks Koepka, then Tiger Woods is Joe Biden and Tiger’s performance Sunday revealed why the former vice president will also be victorious if and when he decides to run for the nomination. Here are three reasons why from the opinion of a republican political consultant.
The best interview I have ever seen based on many factors is when Biden joined Stephen Colbert’s the Late Show to talk about not running in 2016. This doesn't mean I'm a fan of Biden, far from it, but objectively it is a powerful interview. Biden has unmatched authenticity and Colbert asks hard questions the right way but then gives him plenty of leeway to respond, particularly when talking about his late son.
This genuine quality is a key component of a much bigger narrative arc of monumental proportions: a tale of redemption. Biden as a private citizen has already had to respond to crisis scandal of his numerous inappropriate interactions for which he is well-known as evidence from this YouTube compilation of instances. Not only did someone take the time to make this video but it now also has almost 3 million views which only slightly trails the viewership of the SNL cold open sketch earlier this month that now has over 3 and a half million views.
Biden’s apology for grabbing the shoulders of young girls and going face-to-face with elderly women may be an easier one to make than that of his vote for the Iraq War or harsher criminal penalties for laws disproportionately aimed at minorities will be to an unsympathetic, increasingly liberal democrat voter base.
Whether viewed personally or politically, he is a flawed man. But as we’ve seen about once a year since 2009, so is Tiger. The affairs, the weird driving under the influence incident, the petulance on the course, and maybe worst of all, the mediocrity has come to define Tiger for a decade. Even with these stories which may be more familiar to people than his once-dominant performances, the viewership spiked in hopes he would succeed.
This concept makes particular sense on the weekend before Easter. The holiday that embodies redemption is as relevant to us as the story that unfolded at the Masters. This emotional connection to what was happening will be felt again in the democrat presidential preference primary and Biden will be able to turn the feeling people have toward him into votes just as Tiger has done with fans.
Polarization as Popularity
I made a hasty overgeneralization above. Millions more tuned in to watch the Sunday Masters because Tiger was in contention, there is ample data to prove that, but the generalization was that all of those people would be a fan of Tiger. When breaking down that generalization, another similarity between Biden and Tiger surfaces. A necessary element of popularity is to be polarizing.
Any discussion that revolves around most politicians and athletes will need to be put in the context of whether or not a person is a supporter. This polarization helps create deeper emotional bonds with an audience, and particularly in politics, this is helpful for election purposes. If a supporter strongly relates to Biden’s mission then feels he has fallen under attack, as he already has, the supporter will be more likely to take action to correct this affront.
In psychology academia, anger is an approach emotion meaning we are driven by instinct to engage. Peculiarities spark people’s attention and may deepen attitudes toward the public figures.
One such instance with Biden is his family. After the tragic loss of his eldest son Beau to brain cancer, Beau’s widow then engaged in an affair with the younger Biden son who was married at the time. The same types of stories swirled around Tiger after his affairs became public and resurfaced after his driving incident. These glimpses into the personal and family life either humanizes the person or disgusts the audience. With Biden and Tiger, the redemption story outweighs the critics.
The last reason that Tiger’s Masters performance will mirror Biden’s rise to the nomination lies in the data. There is now, and has always been, a Tiger effect in the ratings. According to the 538, Woods’ first two Masters victories in 1997 and 2001 produced the highest Sunday ratings in event history, a whopping 50% above the long-term average dating back to 1958.
Ratings were up once again Sunday as this Masters became the most watched in four years despite a start time changed due to weather concerns. Biden, similarly, will have that ability to get establishment voters who might not otherwise participate in a primary back to the polls. Though a few upsets in the 2018 democratic primaries may have occurred, there has hardly been the shift nationwide away from the establishment outside the rhetoric of a few media lightning rods.
People might even say they want new but this is rarely the case in measurable behavior. College football and the NBA have seen their sports dominated by dynasties but the ratings have remained relatively stable. Even within a national Democrat Party that is not only embracing but trying to define itself through diversity right now, the majority of its polls from actual voters reflect two elderly white heterosexual men as the frontrunners without anyone else getting close and a field as large as a hockey roster far favors the frontrunner.
Tiger Woods’ comeback victory was cathartic for many sports fans, especially those who had been introduced to Tiger at a young age and watched him rise on the national stage. We forgave him, we supported him, we shared his success as validation of our own ability to rise again in the face of prolonged adversity. I believe the Democrat Party will do the same around Joe Biden.
The data is too convincing in his favor to believe people genuinely want new and his authentic approach to answering concerns about his past and questions about his personal present is as effective a tool as Tiger’s tee-shot was in the late ‘90s. This campaign season will be a wild one to watch but I predict one year from now, we’ll be watching Tiger on Sunday and Biden with the nomination locked up.