Highlights, Voter Reaction To Democratic National Convention : Consider This from NPR For the first time in modern history, a major political party convention was not about the optics, the crowds, or arena-sized production value. The Democratic National Convention, held virtually, was less about the medium and more about the message. NPR spoke to three Democratic voters to hear what they thought.

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Voters React To A Virtual Convention Unlike Any Before

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When Joe Biden started his speech Thursday night to accept his party's nomination for president, he quoted civil rights leader Ella Baker, who said, "give people light and they will find the way." It was a theme Biden used throughout the speech, light versus darkness.


JOE BIDEN: For love is more powerful than hate, hope is more powerful than fear, and light is more powerful than dark. This is our moment. This is our mission. May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light join in the battle for the soul of the nation.

MCEVERS: Then there was another moment that kind of summed up the speech and the week, and it happened on Fox News...


CHRIS WALLACE: Oh, I thought it was an enormously effective speech.

MCEVERS: ...As the network showed Joe and Jill Biden after the speech with supporters in their cars in a parking lot, flashing headlights and honking horns, anchor Chris Wallace said that Biden had, quote, "blown a hole in the Trump campaign's characterization of Biden," that his speech was lucid and passionate with clear plans for dealing with the pandemic, racial injustice, climate change.


WALLACE: And he talked about what a united America can do to accomplish all of those things. It seems to me that after tonight, Donald Trump is going to have to run against a candidate, not a caricature. The Democrats have had a good convention. Now it's the Republicans' turn.


MCEVERS: Of course, that's just what one pundit thought about how Democrats looked. Coming up, what voters thought about what the party actually said. This is CONSIDER THIS from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Friday, August 21.


MCEVERS: It feels like you could say this on almost any Friday these days, but today it's actually true. There has never been a week in American politics like the one we just had.


MICHELLE OBAMA: Good evening, everyone. It's a hard time, and everyone's feeling it in different ways.

MCEVERS: For the first time in modern history, a major political party convention was not about optics or massive crowds or arena-sized production value. It was about political arguments and personal stories with no applause lines delivered straight to camera. In other words, it was a lot more about the message than it was about the medium. There was Michelle Obama making her case that President Trump is, quote, "in over his head," and repeating a phrase that he recently used when he was asked about how many people have died from the coronavirus.


OBAMA: He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

MCEVERS: Then there was former President Obama arguing that democracy itself is on the ballot in November.


BARACK OBAMA: Do not let them take away your power. Do not let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you are going to get involved and vote.

MCEVERS: And the moment a lot of people were talking about, when vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris was describing her career as a prosecutor and said this.


KAMALA HARRIS: I know a predator when I see one.

MCEVERS: And there was Jill Biden remembering a painful moment for her family when Joe Biden's son, Beau, died from brain cancer in 2015.


JILL BIDEN: Four days after Beau's funeral, I watched Joe shave and put on his suit. I saw him steel himself in the mirror, take a breath, put his shoulders back and walk out into a world empty of our son. He went back to work. That's just who he is.


BIDEN: There are times when I couldn't even imagine how he did it.

MCEVERS: Those were the big names, the headline speakers. But also this week, there were people like Ady Barkan, a well-known activist for single-payer health care who also has ALS and speaks through a computer.


ADY BARKAN: With a compassionate and intelligent president, we must act together and put on his desk a bill that guarantees us all the health care we deserve.

MCEVERS: Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head at a campaign event in 2012.


GABBY GIFFORDS: We must elect Joe Biden. He was there for me. He'll be there for you, too.

MCEVERS: And a 13-year-old named Brayden Harrington who met Joe Biden at a campaign event. He says Joe Biden gave him encouragement and advice on how to deal with his stutter. Biden also grew up with a stutter.


BRAYDEN HARRINGTON: I'm just a regular kid. And in a short amount of time, Joe Biden made me more confident about something that has bothered me my whole life. Joe Biden cared. Imagine what he could do for all of us. Kids like me...

MCEVERS: So all in all, over four nights of speeches, how did what Democrats said sound to the people who were listening?


PEARLIE HODGES: Hi, this is Pearlie Hodges.

MCEVERS: Pearlie is a behavioral therapist from Fayetteville, N.C.


AMER ZAHR: Hi, my name is Amer Zahr. I'm a...

MCEVERS: Amer teaches law and does comedy in Dearborn, Mich.


DAVID SIFFERT: Hi, my name's David Siffert.

MCEVERS: David is a legal researcher from New York City. And the three of them talked to my colleague Audie Cornish.


AUDIE CORNISH: I want to start with just the idea of a virtual convention. We don't want to turn this into a TV review but fundamentally did it work. Do you feel excited about what you saw?

ZAHR: I mean, you know, obviously there is a lot of pomp and circumstance in politics usually. And Americans, were used to that. But there was something appealing about the sort of, like, conciseness and a little bit more controlled environment of this thing. You know, I thought for the circumstances that we're in, it was done pretty well.

CORNISH: Pearlie, do you have thoughts about this? Pearlie Hodges.

HODGES: I agree. I believe that it gave opportunity to really hear what the speakers were saying. For me it just - the clarity and just having time to really think about what's being said was a real benefit.

CORNISH: Jumping in on the idea of what was said, Amer, let me start with you. Did you hear a platform that was distinct, that was specific, that helped you understand how this partnership of Biden and Harris would lead?

ZAHR: So I come from the more progressive wing of the party, and I was disappointed that there wasn't much of that policy talk. You know, this convention was a lot of character. Joe Biden is not Donald Trump. And those things are important. But I think something the Democratic Party misses is that the progressive wing of the party, which is pretty substantial, and especially younger people are actually much more policy-driven than some of the more traditional establishment wings of the party.

CORNISH: Go ahead, David.

SIFFERT: I was - Joe Biden talked a lot about purpose. And he pointed out sort of to me three sources of purpose that I think his generation really have relied on, which is faith, community and family and jobs. And I worry that while purpose is just as important as ever, if not more important, all three of those are not applicable in the same way to our generation.

CORNISH: What do you mean by that?

SIFFERT: So fewer and fewer people in my generation believe in God and are religious. People are less likely to marry, less likely to have kids. They're likely to have kids at a later age. And in some ways, the biggest difference is jobs, where I think that a lot fewer people who are under 40 really get a sense of purpose out of their jobs. And I think it's a product of the way the economy has developed in recent years and the way that younger generations have been left behind in it.

ZAHR: Yeah, I think - oh, sorry. Go ahead, David. Sorry.

SIFFERT: No, go ahead.

ZAHR: OK. Yeah, I think the real question that's going to be answered over the next, you know, two and a half months in this campaign is, does the campaigning and rhetoric of really, like, the '70s and '80s - is it going to work in 2020? And...

CORNISH: That's what you hear when Joe Biden speaks (laughter) - the '70s...

ZAHR: That's what...

CORNISH: ...And '80s.

ZAHR: Yes, that's what I hear. I mean, look. I grew up on the Pennsylvania-Delaware corridor. I grew up with Joe Biden, and I'm 43. And when I was a kid hearing about Joe Biden, he was an old guy then, OK? So, I mean, now, you know, this sort of campaigning - kind of what David was talking about, not that there's anything wrong in substance with those things.

But again, to people - people under 40 change jobs five or six times in their life without thinking about it. They start families older, like he said. And so we are much more concerned with these big macro ideas of policy.

CORNISH: Pearlie, I want to give you a chance to jump in here, either to respond to what these two are saying or to talk about what you heard from Biden's speech yourself.

HODGES: I agree with purpose, faith, community, family, jobs. Those are strong bulwarks. They're what hold, I think, I believe - and I'm 66 years old, so I'm not too far behind Joe Biden. But there's something to be said about longevity and age. So - but I do believe that there is room for integration and bring the younger generation. Let's make this thing work. But if we start bickering among ourselves - amongst ourselves before we get him out of office, then we don't really have a chance.

SIFFERT: I should add that I agree with a lot of that. I don't want to be too critical. And I do completely agree with Pearlie that there's an emergency right now, and we need to be on the same side. And we need to deal with this emergency. And I think Joe Biden is speaking to a relatively broad constituency, even if there are some folks that don't necessarily feel spoken to as much. I think maybe we're a constituency that has dealt with that in the past and doesn't want to keep dealing with it. But nonetheless, we understand that, again, there's an emergency.

ZAHR: If I could say one last thing, Audie, is that I get it. Trump is a menace, and I think everyone sort of understands that. And a lot of people are going to be voting anti-Trump. What I'm really worried about is that this governing or campaigning from the moderate position is going to lead to some communities being thrown under the bus if he wins.

And I'm really afraid of that for my community, for the Arab American community, that this coalition that gets put together to perhaps win Biden the White House is going to celebrate and have parades for, like, six months, and our community will get thrown under the bus. That's my biggest fear. And that's why I think it's important to why we might all get in line and vote for him - to voice our objections now while people are listening.

HODGES: And I don't want to sound melodramatic, but we have to be united from all ethnicities and so forth because if we don't - and Michelle Obama said it, too - don't think that things can't get worse because the way it's headed, as a military person, and when I hear leadership in the military talk about national security and the fact that they don't want to bring something to President Trump because, can they trust him? We'd better open our eyes and get people activated and pumped up about getting out and voting, even if they have to stand in line for 24 hours, however long it takes to get that vote and see some change in the White House.


MCEVERS: Pearlie Hodges, Amer Zahr and David Siffert talking to my colleague Audie Cornish. Additional reporting and production in this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered.

Next week, of course, is the Republican National Convention. And again, you can follow NPR's coverage at npr.org. You can ask your smart speaker to play NPR, or you can listen to your local public radio station. Supporting that station makes this podcast possible.

This show is produced by Brianna Scott, Lee Hale and Brett Baughman. Our editors are Sami Yenigun and Beth Donovan. We have fact-checking help from Anne Li. Our executive producer is Cara Tallo. Thank you for listening. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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