2020 Democrats connect with voters over beer

2020 Democrats connect with voters over beer
© The Hill

A number of Democrats running for president are turning to beer to appeal to voters, hoping to boost their populist credentials and stand out in a large field of more than 20 candidates.

Candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash MORE (D-Mass.) have livestreamed themselves on Instagram having a beer, and former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Impeachment enters new crucial phase Bullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate 2020 hopes rise for gun control groups after Virginia elections MORE regularly refers to his past work as a brewer.

“Hold on a sec, I’m gonna get me a beer,” Warren announced in a New Year's Instagram story, before taking a hearty swig on camera.


Hickenlooper, who co-founded Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing, touted his work in a fundraising email shortly before the first 2020 Democratic debates.

"I'll be the first geologist and brewer on the presidential debate stage,” Hickenlooper wrote.

Beer and politics have long gone together, according to experts, and the question "would you have beer with that candidate?" is seen as an important test of likability.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Trump: Giuliani to deliver report on Ukraine trip to Congress, Barr MORE, who does not drink, made a point to buy a round of beers during a stop at New York City's Stonewall Inn for Pride Month. And Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWhite House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers Bloomberg on 2020 rivals blasting him for using his own money: 'They had a chance to go out and make a lot of money' Harris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day MORE (D-N.Y.) played beer pong at Liquid Therapy in New Hampshire. 

Candidates have also held a host of fundraisers and campaign stops at breweries and bars in early primary states.

“If a symbol in America is sitting down to have a beer or going to a tavern to relax, this [shows] this is a politician that is comfortable in their own skin, they have the common touch, they like to do what we the voters like to do,” Mordecai Lee, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told The Hill.

The candidates are trying to tap into a popular consumer trend that represents a huge number of potential voters.

Americans spent $114.2 billion on beer last year, and according to Gallup it is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the U.S. And the attention is one the industry welcomes.

“Beer is as American as apple pie,” said Jim McGreevy, president and CEO at the Beer Institute. “American politicians have effectively used beer in campaigns starting with our first president, George Washington. We celebrate National Beer Day on April 7, because Franklin Roosevelt fulfilled his campaign promise of ending prohibition on beer before other alcohol.”

"Beer is not only America’s most popular alcohol beverage, it brings people together and lends itself to occasions where politicians can have meaningful conversations with voters," he added.

Beer is also bipartisan, said Katie Marisic, federal affairs manager at the Brewers Association.

“There are 7,000 small and independent breweries across the states ... these breweries are deeply involved in their communities,” she told The Hill. “They act as a gathering place for locals and there’s a lot of tourism being driven by breweries as well ... it’s something you can get behind no matter your party.”

Politicians have been using beer to connect with voters or conduct political business for years, perhaps most notably in 2009, when former President Obama hosted an informal "beer summit" with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and a Cambridge, Mass., police officer after a racial controversy.

Obama was also the first president to brew beer in the White House. Former presidents such as George Washington brewed their own beer at home, in his case, Mount Vernon.

Mixing hops and politics can sometimes backfire. 

Democrats baptized the 2020 primary with beer when Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE clinked a glass over the committee’s contract to host the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee and spilled some on the paperwork.

"I think it's only appropriate that the paperwork should have a little spill of beer on it,” Perez joked

And critics pounced on Warren after her beer Instagram, questioning her authenticity.

“She would have my vote if she shotgunned it,” Fox News host Greg Gutfeld said, mocking Warren. "She has a problem not being herself. It’s just obvious that she’s inauthentic in everything she does.”

Another female candidate faced similar criticism in the 2016 primaries. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats battle for Hollywood's cash The House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE tried her hand at pouring a beer during a visit to a brewery in Wisconsin, only to produce an overly foamy pour. That same brewery, Pearl Street in La Crosse, this month invited the current presidential candidates to visit and try to top Clinton’s pour. 

And beer drinkers aren't always able to sway voters. In the 2004 election, Democratic nominee John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Krystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage MORE often grabbed a beer before the cameras. Yet a poll showed more voters saw then-President George W. Bush, his opponent who had stopped drinking alcohol, as a "regular guy."

Openly enjoying a beer could also be tricky for candidates, Lee said.

He cautioned that beyond questions of authenticity, some voters expect politicians to be "role models," who shun or are careful to moderate their alcohol consumption.

“There’s no doubt if you’re a candidate you’re living in fear, essentially of anything that might lead to negative publicity," Lee told The Hill. “This [drinking publicly] is high-risk behavior. I suppose when you’re one of 23 candidates you’re willing to engage in a little bit of risk, in the hopes there’ll be a political payoff."

Candidates are often cautious about even revealing their beer preferences, hoping to avoid potentially divisive choices.

The Hill surveyed every Democratic candidate for president asking about their preferences but only heard back from a handful: Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanGM among partners planning .3B battery plant in Ohio San Francisco 49ers suspend announcer after reference to quarterback's 'dark skin' More than 100 Democrats sign letter calling for Stephen Miller to resign MORE (D-Ohio), who likes Miller Lite; Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonDeval Patrick beefs up campaign staff Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Pardoning war crimes dishonors the military MORE (D-Mass.), who prefers Shiner Bock; and Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Steve Bullock exits: Will conservative Democrats follow? MORE who likes a craft beer from his home state, Blackfoot River Brewing Company’s Blackfoot IPA.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash MORE (D-N.J.), like Biden and President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE, doesn’t drink. Warren revealed her preference for Michelob Ultra on Instagram. And a spokesman for Gillibrand told NPR in June that the candidate "tends to enjoy the grapefruit-flavored beers."

Consumer experts have long collected data to draw links between the products people prefer and their political leanings.

A 2013 National Media Research Planning and Placement analysis of consumer data suggested that microbrew-drinkers tended to lean Democratic in their voting habits. According to the Brewers Association, the number of small craft breweries in the U.S. has doubled since 2013

Beer industry players, though, tout beer as a unifying force, playing up its cultural importance ahead of an election year and downplaying any partisan rifts.

“When it comes to beer there’s no red states and no blue states; there are only beer states,” according to the Brewers Association. 

And they emphasized the importance of politics to small business owners like microbrewers. At least two candidates have a craft beer named after them: Vermont's Zero Gravity Brewing named Bernie Weisse after Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE (I-Vt.) and New Hampshire's To Share Brewing Company named Kirstenweizen after Gillibrand.

Marisic, from the association, suggested that people who are heavily involved in their communities — for example craft brewers — are also more likely to be politically aware. 

"The people who create beer are excited about it and passionate about it and not all of them are coming from the same background or same walks of life," said Marisic. "The fact that it is such a community oriented thing means it’s a good place to go and interact with people that you might not otherwise.”

The 2013 analysis of consumer data offers a note of caution, though, in finding that beer drinkers are less likely than wine drinkers to vote.

Still, beer is certain to keep popping up on the campaign trail.

Asked about his favorite beer, Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeFight against flavored e-cigarettes goes local Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates Bullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate MORE, another 2020 Democratic contender, pointed The Hill back to a comment he made to reporters several years ago.

“All beer is the beautiful amber nectar of the gods," Inslee said.