Why the Right Is Winning the Audio Battle but Losing the Culture War | Opinion

Conquest's Second Law of Politics: Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.

This line is attributed to British historian Robert Conquest. (It is also sometimes referred to as O'Sullivan's First Law.) And just look around. It's true enough: From Nike to Disney to Burger King, for God's sake, organizations that historically marketed to the majority of Americans now proudly insult at least half the country every June—and also July through May.

The effect of this "long march through the institutions" on conservatives—especially conservative artists, writers, and speakers—has been that for at least two decades, most creators have had to shut up or ship out of mainstream media and entertainment. And because true creators can't shut up, they've sought alternative mediums in which they are free to express themselves and their ideas.

Enter audio—first talk radio, and now its digital offspring: podcasting.

The Right's dominance of AM radio—Rush, Hannity, Prager, Levin, Elder, the list goes on—has long been an annoyance to the Left, a blemish on an otherwise near-perfect record of winning the culture. Talk radio is perhaps the only major cultural redoubt the Left has failed to breach.

The New York Times, NPR, and Crooked Media have thrived in the podcast space, but here too conservatives punch well above their weight.

Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, Megyn Kelly, and Tim Pool are just a few of the conservative and right-leaning personalities whose podcasts routinely chart highly on Spotify and Apple, and sometimes rank among the top shows in the world. And there is also a fresh crop of younger conservative podcasters whose shows have quickly gained traction, including Newsweek's own Josh Hammer, Spencer Klavan, Amala Ekpunobi, and Julie Hartman.

The podcast market, with its low barrier to entry, is extremely competitive. It's estimated there are over 3 million active podcasts globally. Reaching 1,000 listeners with an episode, much less 100,000 or 1 million, is exceedingly difficult for the vast majority of shows.

Yet several conservative podcasts reach hundreds of thousands of listeners with every episode—and a few reach over 1 million per episode.

The podcast market could look very different in five or 10 years, but conservatives already control a substantial amount of territory. Right-wing podcasts likely generate well over $100 million in annual ad revenue in what is currently a roughly $2 billion market.

The Right is by its very nature suspicious of the new, so conservatives are often hostile to new ideas—usually wise—but late adopters of powerful technology—often foolish.

Podcasting is different. The Right embraced it early.

So, why have conservatives excelled in audio—first radio, and now podcasting?

The company logo of Swedish music streaming
The company logo of Swedish music streaming giant Spotify is pictured on a smartphone in Berlin on January 23, 2023. TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

One explanation is that water follows the path of least resistance. Breaking into Hollywood or mainstream journalism today is simply impossible for a vocal conservative. Starting a podcast, by contrast, is not.

Another reason is that most people who take the time to really listen to and consider what an intelligent conservative thinker has to say move to the Right.

Whoever once (perhaps apocryphally) said that younger conservatives have no heart and older liberals have no brain had a point.

Conservatives communicate more effectively with words and reason; progressives, by contrast, with pictures and emotion.

Where imagery is critical—television, film, and even newspapers—the viewer's attention and heart can be instantly captured.

Where there are no pictures, but only the spoken word, the listener can be moved—but it takes time and a rare combination of logic, reason, humor, emotion, and eloquence that few people can masterfully communicate in real-time. But there are more of these people on the Right, which makes audio a favorable battlefield for conservative voices.

While conservatives are slowly beginning to invest in TV and film, podcasting is an open, competitive market right now. The Right can win it, but so can the Left. The Left spends billions of dollars per year to maintain its dominance of Hollywood, TV, and, video streaming. They understand that you can't just build it; you must market it. You must spend.

The Left surely aims to turn podcasting into another vassal, just like Hollywood. They've already executed successful pressure campaigns against several advertisers on conservative podcasts. And they will relentlessly fight to turn Spotify and Apple into hostile gatekeepers, through external pressure and internal capture, as they've done with virtually every major tech, entertainment, and news corporation.

The audio medium is structurally biased in favor of the Right, which presents a unique opportunity for conservatives to become the dominant political force in the market. But they can squander their natural advantage in the audio medium if they don't prioritize investing in the constant creation and growth of new shows. If that happens, the Left's long march through the institutions will continue through audio, one of the Right's few areas of cultural strength—for now.

Jared Sichel is a partner at Winning Tuesday, an award-winning political marketing agency.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.