Chuck Todd's sad election explainer: It's Starbucks versus Chick-fil-A!

New "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd explained 2014 Senate races by employing the laziest possible metaphor

Published September 22, 2014 5:35PM (EDT)

Chuck Todd
Chuck Todd

Breaking news: Democrats tend to draw their votes from concentrated URBAN areas whereas Republicans draw theirs from RURAL/SMALL TOWN areas. Degrees of TURNOUT in these areas will play a large part in determining which candidates win SENATE seats in this November's ELECTION BATTLEGROUNDS.

These are the contours of the modern American electorate, and people pretty much know that. But there's no harm in reiterating it on a nationally televised political talk show just in case. That's what Chuck Todd, the new host of august NBC News institution "Meet the Press," set out to do yesterday in a brief segment dubbed "The Nerd Screen." Our hero-spelunker of American demographics sought to show the breakdown of vote concentration in closely contested Senate races in Colorado, Iowa and elsewhere. In Colorado, Democratic votes will largely come from Denver and its suburbs; Republicans will draw their largest support from elsewhere. Sure, fine. Good! True. Just explain it like an adult political commentator without descending into cheap, brand-centric cultural cliché about the dividing lines in America's voting patterns.

"And now to a different way to look at campaign 2014, this election cycle," our host began. "In one corner, it's Starbucks nation." Oh god. "These are Democrats that live in the big cities, adjacent suburbs -- lots of Starbucks.

"In the other corner, it's Chick-fil-A country." Of course. "Basically, Republicans that live in the areas between suburban America and rural America -- we call 'em the exurbs." The presumed idiot viewer at home is glued to the screen now. "It's also another way of saying small town America."

After running through the geography of a few battleground states, Todd demonstrates why he makes the big bucks by pinching off the extended metaphor of "coffee vs. chicken," a mutually exclusive choice if ever there was one. "So there you have it. It's Starbucks country versus Chick-fil-A country. Who's gonna turn out in 2014?" WELL, WHO?

"It could be advantage to the chicken." Noooooo!

There's a hurried tone to Todd's delivery in this segment, especially when he has to work in the horrific fast-food metaphor lines. An optimist would like to believe that Todd, a bright guy who knows his battleground numbers cold, was grimacing inside during the delivery, realizing, holy shit, I can't believe I'm saying this. It's 2014 and I'm using Starbucks as my metaphor of choice for urban-dwelling Democratic voters. Maybe some holdouts from "MTP's" David Gregory era are still lingering in the writers room? It's easy to imagine that a moppet such as Gregory would field the "Starbucks vs. Chick-fil-A" pitch, drop his jaw, widen his eyes and exclaim, This explains *everything*. But Chuck Todd, who's not perfect but is trying to reinvent "Meet the Press" as something that occasionally might be useful to people who are confused about politics, should know better.

There's an interesting segment to be had about the demographic breakdown between Democratic and Republican strongholds. But it's not this one. It doesn't involve dated generalizations about urban coffees shops in which wry homosexuals gather to discuss jihad, the devil and Malcolm Gladwell; or small towns where god-fearing folk plop down for breaded chicken sandwiches ahead of the monster truck rally. Instead it might entail an explanation for why people in densely populated areas tend to vote for Democrats while "rural folk" vote for Republicans. There are various theories and studies out there. Maybe a discussion about how density requires governmental intervention on issues like concentrated poverty, housing, mass transit and public safety -- falling right into Democrats' lap? These things have very little to do with fast-food preferences and other nifty cultural stereotypes there for the easy plucking.

But maybe that would be boring.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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