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 WarrenSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders over handling of feud with Warren On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans MORE (D-Mass.) have livestreamed themselves on Instagram having a beer, and former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperHickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 George Conway group releases ad targeting GOP senator: 'You're just another Trump servant' The 5 most vulnerable senators in 2020 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 BidenSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial Hillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball on Sanders-Warren feud: 'Don't play to the pundits, play to voters' 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 GillibrandSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 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 ClintonSupreme Court agrees to hear 'faithless elector' cases Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg in New Hampshire Climate 'religion' is fueling Australia's wildfires 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 KerryBring on the brokered convention 18 progressive groups sign unity pledge amid Sanders-Warren feud Mellman: Democrats — Buckle up for a wild ride 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) RyanOffice of Technology Assessment: It's time for a second coming Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far GM among partners planning .3B battery plant in Ohio MORE (D-Ohio), who likes Miller Lite; Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonOvernight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Congress reacts to US assassination of Iranian general Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far MORE (D-Mass.), who prefers Shiner Bock; and Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBrent Budowsky: Bloomberg should give billion to Democrats Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Kamala Harris dropped out, but let's keep her mental health plan alive MORE who likes a craft beer from his home state, Blackfoot River Brewing Company’s Blackfoot IPA.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDNC announces new criteria for New Hampshire debate The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders, Warren feud rattles Democrats The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-N.J.), like Biden and President TrumpDonald John TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' 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 SandersSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders over handling of feud with Warren On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans 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 InsleeOur government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far 2019's political winners and losers — on both sides of the aisle 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.