The first election scandal I remember dates from before I started going to school. Watergate glued my parents to our black and white TV set, but I had no idea what any of it was about. I thought water + gate maybe meant a dam?
Anyway. When Star Wars came out a few years later, I remember being obsessed with the story long before I was allowed to go see it nth run at the Crest. I had a Scholastic Book Services picture book of the movie that had a page with snapshots of each of the characters with a description. So when the kiddie newspaper (R. remembers the name -- I don't) covered the 1980 (I thought it was the 1976 election, but of course it was Carter's re-election, not his original run) presidential campaign with a similar layout of who was running and little descriptions, I absorbed the information with little understanding. My political opinions officially did not exist at the time (raised JW, no politics allowed) however I liked Carter and wanted him to be re-elected. I sure hated who actually got elected. I still think Carter gets a bum rap in terms of how we think of his legacy as a President.
Without getting into a detailed blow by blow of my voting record once I did start voting, or even into my changing feelings regarding strategic voting (yes, strategic voting, such as Democrats registering as Republicans in Seattle to vote for the nuttiest candidate on offer, to ensure that a centrist Republican never has a chance to win at the state level, for example. Or my husband voting for Pat Buchanan some years later in New Hampshire. I initially found it shocking. Then it seemed pretty sensible. Then I very belatedly understood that a whole lot of people hadn't yet made it through the finding it shocking phase, and it was best to speak favorably of strategic voting when around them), or my opinions on third party candidates (spoiler candidates vs. no-hopers that you vote for when you know who is actually going to be elected and want to register that you would like things to be pushed in a particular direction and the importance of not confusing those two situations). Without getting into all that, I'll just baldly assert that over the various election cycles that have happened during my lifetime, I've noticed a pattern.
Here is the pattern.
There's this guy. He doesn't really _look_ the way you expect a candidate to look. And by that, I mean his suits are out of date, and his haircut is bad. Sometimes he's short, but not always, and he's likely to have a variety of physical characteristics that a more committed, savvy candidate would have had corrected surgically much earlier on in life.
He's a particular kind of public speaker. He has a lot of energy. He often paces the stage. If he hasn't been doing this long, his eye contact will be iffy and he'll speak way too close to the microphone. If he's been doing this a long time, he'll have a particular kind of stare and he'll be at exactly that distance from the microphone that his p's won't pop, but he doesn't have to yell as much to convey emotional power. But he'll be yelling by the end of the speech anyway. Every. Single. Time. His speeches will be remarkably consistent. There will be little or no evidence that he has a staff that writes position papers for him -- he writes his own. If he belongs to one of the two major parties, he will hold positions wildly out of line with his party; he may belong to a third party or have created his own party. Even those positions he has which are nominally in line with a major party, he is often wildly out of date. Whatever interest groups he is closely involved with are either very difficult to detect -- or absolutely, relentlessly apparent at every stage of the campaign, and absolutely, relentlessly opposed to being characterized as something as shady as an "interest group". He's white. He's a he. And I don't think it ever occurs to him to think about the possibility that he is wrong on anything important. Every criticism, every negative response, all feedback that isn't the roar of an appreciative crowd is considered Earned as Proof that He Is Fighting The Good Fight.
And these guys get crowds. They get huge turnouts, always bigger than the candidate who will go on to win their parties nomination. And journalists -- especially younger ones -- will always point to the size of their turnout and say, guess you'd better pay attention to those crowds, even if you ignore everything else! The actual candidate(s) rarely adjust their message much in response to these guys, altho pundits abound who predict doom to candidates who ignore whatever particular platform the particular iteration is stumping on.
Here are some examples from the not too distant past, starting with Ron Paul:http://www.p2012.org/paul/paulcrowds.html
From the 2000 election, Ralph Nader in Boston:http://www.commondreams.org/headlines/100200-02.htm
There's a link in here (dead now) to St. Pete coverage of a Ross Perot rally attended by 10K people.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ross_Perot_presidential_campaign,_1992
You might be wondering why I don't include Barack Obama in this list. Several reasons. His speaking style is wildly different from these three. His presentation was always excellent, his suits good, his haircut perfect. Also, not white, and his rally sizes were substantially larger. He is an outlier whether you are comparing him to candidates who go on to win their party's nomination and/or their election or whether you compare to other people who draw crowds but fail to win.
You may make of this pattern analysis, whatever you like. But I'm convinced there is something going on here, and pointing at crowds showing up as if it means something is definitely part of the pattern, and being _wrong_ about whether you should take those crowds seriously is also part of that pattern.