We’ll call it a tale of two problems: As we fight a mild case of the labyrinthitis, we’ll call it a tale of two problems.
Let’s start with those latest Iowa polls and the press corps’ attempt to report them. But first, a quick bit of background:
The cable “news” channels are devoting themselves to all-candidates-all-the-time. Shark attacks can be forgotten in a delicious summer like this.
If it isn’t Trump/Biden, it just isn’t news! Meanwhile, they’re obsessing about the latest polls. They can’t get enough of new polling!
Can we talk? Obsessing on the polls in August is like measuring the height and weight of your two-year-old son in an attempt to determine if he will ever become an NFL lineman.
Except in the most general sense, current polls have very little predictive value. Obsessing on day-to-day changes at this time, based on results from single polls, is the work of our culture’s glorious fools—our corporate “news” purveyors.
That said, they love to talk about personalities—and they love the thrill of the horse race!Of course, a real horse race lasts roughly two minutes. As a boon to the industry, they stretch their quadrennial horse race out, making it last two years.
At this point, the latest poll is basically useless. Making matters even worse, consider the way our “journalists” sometimes report these polls!
We were struck by Politico’s hapless reports on the latest Iowa polls. The reports were written by a young person who’s just one year out of college.
At this high-profile site, her competence was hard to discern—and her reports were weirdly unbalanced. Did an editor examine her work? Luckily for him or her, he or she went unnamed.
What was wrong with Politico’s reporting? In its report on the new Democratic poll from Iowa, Politico stressed a debunking fact, starting right in its headline:
“Poll: Hillary Clinton leads in Iowa, but majority not firmly decided”
Clinton is way ahead in this new Iowa poll, which was conducted by CNN/ORC. She leads Bernie Sanders, 50-31, even with Joe Biden mysteriously thrown in the mix.
(At present, he isn’t a candidate.)
Clinton’s ahead by 19 points in this poll—but Politico stressed a debunking fact: 54 percent of respondents said they haven’t firmly decided! This debunking fact appeared in Collins’ second paragraph, then jumped to Politico’s headline.
Clinton’s large lead was undermined from the headline on down. But uh-oh! In their report on the new Republican poll, Collins and Politico played things different.
In the new Iowa poll, Trump is ahead by only eight points—but Collins and Politico stressed the gigantic size of his lead. Meanwhile, 66 percent of Republican voters said they haven’t firmly decided. This larger group of not-fully-decideds was played down in Politico’s report.
Given the companion report about the Democratic poll, what you see below is just horrible work. Exciting headline included:
COLLINS (8/12/15): Donald Trump dominates Iowa in CNN pollIs 22 percent “nearly double” 14 percent? It can be if you’re excited!
Donald Trump has seized a commanding lead in Iowa, drawing nearly double the support of his closest competitor, in a new poll by CNN and ORC that shows the real estate mogul’s staying power as controversy swirls around his campaign.
The poll, which was conducted after last Thursday’s debate and as Trump hurled nasty insults about Fox News host Megyn Kelly, showed Trump leading the Republican field with 22 percent among Iowa caucus-goers.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came in second with 14 percent, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who until recently was leading polls in Iowa, came in at 9 percent.
Meanwhile, note the way Collins and Politico characterize the size of Trump’s lead. With an eight-point lead, he “dominates Iowa!” His lead in the state is “commanding.”
Clinton’s 19-point lead is undermined by the fact that many Dems are undecided. The fact that substantially more Republicans are undecided wasn’t allowed to sully our sense of Trump’s commanding lead.
Politico is a high-profile site. This work was done by a kid reporter who’s barely out of college. If an older editor was part of the mix, he or she ought to retire.
Obsessing on these polls at this time is silly, unhelpful—absurd. It’s a mark of the low IQ which defines our cable “news” business.
At Politico, they found a way to make things worse! An 8-point lead is “commanding,” they said.
A 19-point lead is less.
Later today: The Times and the gender wage gap