The news of Colin Kaepernick’s endorsement deal with Nike came as shock to conservatives. It seemed that Kaepernick was a has-been after his departure from the NFL, but suddenly he’s back with a lucrative deal to be the face of Nike. That should be a wake-up call that conservatives do not represent a majority of Americans.
If conservatives were a majority, then selecting the man whose claim to fame lies in taking a knee during the National Anthem as a spokesman would be an act of corporate suicide. In that case, one would expect that the stock would tank and a meaningful boycott would occur. And that’s exactly what many conservative news outlets were reporting.
The truth is a little different.
The deal was announced on Sept. 3. Nike stock closed on the previous day at $82.20 per share. By the close of trading on Sept. 4, Nike stock had indeed plunged… all the way to $79.60, a loss of a little over three percent. On Wednesday, the stock closed just under $79.92, not far under the 52-week high of $83.68. Trading in Nike was much higher than is the norm. 18,548,800 shares changed hands on Tuesday as opposed to an average volume of 7,073,191.
Nike’s stock declined, but it is only slightly off from prior to the announcement. There were a lot of sellers, but there were also a lot of buyers. That observation says a lot about American politics in general.
What’s more, most conservatives have not heard that Nike received an estimated $43 million in media exposure after the rollout of Kaepernick’s ad campaign. Bloomberg reports that almost half of the exposure was positive. Less than a quarter of the media coverage was negative.
The nature of modern communication is that most of us live in an echo chamber. Conservatives read conservative blogs, listen to conservative radio, watch Fox News and talk to other conservatives on Facebook and Twitter. When we don’t have contact with many – or any – people with opposing viewpoints, we lose sight of the fact that not everyone thinks like we do.
The story goes that Pauline Kael, a film critic for the New Yorker, said after the 1972 election, “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” The story is somewhat apocryphal. The quote has been paraphrased to make Kael seem more out of touch than she really was, but the sentiment is real.
This week it is conservatives’ turn to say, “I can’t believe they hired Kaepernick. No one likes him.” Two years ago, it was the Democrats. Just substitute Donald Trump’s name.
If conservatives are to be successful in the long term, they need to face some hard truths. The first is that conservatives do not represent a majority of Americans. Close on the heels of that bitter pill is the fact that most voters do not like Donald Trump. Finally, some conservative ideas are popular, but some are not.
We can look back at Gallup’s survey of political ideology to see that, for the 30 years that the poll has been taken, conservatives have never represented a majority. The survey, taken in December 2017, actually shows a slight decline in conservative identification since the Tea Party revolution. About 35 percent of Americans now identify as conservative.
How do conservatives win elections then? The good news is that liberals are actually doing worse. About 26 percent currently identify as liberals. This represents a long slow climb from 17 percent in 1992.
The mathematically astute are probably thinking that liberals and conservatives only represent about half of the people polled. They’re right. The third major group in American politics is the moderates. Weighing in at 35 percent, the moderate group is as large as conservatives and larger than liberals. With neither conservatives nor liberals constituting a majority on their own, moderates are the deciding factor in elections.
The problem faced by both parties is that they need moderates to win, but moderates don’t like extremism from either party. Primary voters, on the other hand, love to vote for the candidates that promise to deliver the most change for their respective ideology.
What happens often is that a party will win an election by a slim margin and then proceed to govern as if they have an enormous mandate. It happened to Barack Obama, who answered a Republican offer of compromise with the words “I won,” and it is happening to Donald Trump now.
The Trump Administration is pushing an agenda that many voters are not happy with, but Republican voters are ecstatic with the “winning.” The problem for the GOP is that rather than winning the hearts and minds of voters, they have pushed their advantage with party-line votes and executive actions while ignoring public opinion. This is basically the same strategy that cost Democrats both houses of Congress and more than 1,000 legislative seats under Obama.
There is a disconnect on several core issues between the Republicans and the rest of the country. The most notable achievement of the Trump Administration is the tax reform bill, but Republicans have not sold the new law to the public. Nine months after passage of the law, numerous polls show that the country is split but the tax plan remains slightly more unpopular than popular.
Opinion on the president’s policy of separating families at the border as a disincentive to immigration is not even close. Numerous polls found that Americans opposed the separations by more than a two-to-one margin. However, the opinion of Republicans was just the opposite with an average of about half of Republicans supporting the plan.
On Colin Kaepernick and the anthem protests, opinion is also split. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken last week before the current brouhaha erupted found that voters felt that taking a knee during the National Anthem was not appropriate by a margin of 54-43 percent. However, a Quinnipiac poll from June showed almost exactly the opposite.
The bottom line here is that the target market for the Nike campaign is not white conservatives. Nike almost certainly test-marketed the Kaepernick campaign before they launched what they had to know was going to erupt into a tornado of fecal material, yet Nike is confident enough that the campaign will make money for them that they did it anyway. The logical answer is that Nike understands that, while millions of people will be angered by the ad, those millions of people are still a minority. In fact, Nike may be banking on conservative outrage to generate more publicity… just as Kaepernick has used the outrage to make his name a household word over the past few years.
The collective clout of American conservatives showing their anger can’t make a mainstream sports apparel company decide against hiring one of the most infamous men in sports because aggrieved conservatives are just one small segment of the population. Nike has apparently determined that angry conservatives don’t buy enough of their merchandise to make a difference. The left learned the same lesson with protests of Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby.
What both parties seem never to learn is that in order to propagate real and lasting change, you have to win over the voters in the middle. That isn’t likely to happen by being shrill and calling athletes traitors. If conservatives could find a coherent spokesman for the movement who could reach the moderates in the middle, then maybe one day conservatives will be a majority. Until that day, conservatives do not have the mandate to force their will on the rest of the country. They must remember that or pay the price.