SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2022
Werewolves of Gotham, ah-ooh: Is it true? Do suburban women hold the key to this year's elections?
That fuzzy claim appears, or possibly just seems to appear, on the front page of this morning's New York Times. Online, the headline on the report says this:
Suburban Women, No Longer ‘Soccer Moms,’ Hold Key to Midterms
A similar headline adorns the report in print editions. In print editions, the headline says this:
‘Soccer Moms’ No More, Suburban Women Hold Key to Midterms
These suburban women today! They're no longer soccer moms, but they somehow (seem to) "hold [the] key" to this year's elections.
Is it true that suburban women (somehow) hold the key? And while we're at it, how about this:
Does the report in the New York Times even make that claim? The headline seems to make that claim. But does that claim really exist within the body of the report?
We'd have to say that the answer is no—the report makes no such claim. For our money, the report is spectacularly fatuous, in the manner of many front-page Times reports.
That said, does the report actually claim that suburban women hold the key to this year's elections? Actually, no, it doesn't. Here's how the report begins:
GOLDSTEIN ET AL (11/5/22): The “soccer mom” was born a cliché.
Americans were introduced to her during the 1996 presidential race, when she was heralded by campaign consultants and the media as the new center of the American electorate—a white, married, minivan-steering, cleats-toting, home-owning swing voter, exhausted by culture wars and seeking optimistic, common-sense politics.
That year, so-called soccer moms broke for the Democratic incumbent, President Bill Clinton, over his Republican challenger, Bob Dole, a senator from Kansas. Mr. Clinton appealed to suburban women by signing a tough crime bill and promising to put reading tutors in schools.
A quarter century later, female suburban voters remain a key swing constituency and, amid the coronavirus pandemic, crime and education are again crucial concerns. But recent polls have shown that unlike in 1996, independent female voters are tilting toward Republicans.
In a word, sad! For starters, note this:
In fact, the report says that female suburban voters are "a" key swing constituency in this year's elections.
Rather plainly, that implies that there are other "key swing constituencies." The genius who composed the Times' front-page headline seemed to make these women the key to this year's vote, not one key among others.
That problem lands on some headline writer. Also though, note this:
In the final paragraph which we've posted, Dana Goldstein and three colleagues execute a switch.
First, they say that "female suburban voters" are a key swing constituency this year. Then, they report a polling result among "independent female voters"—a substantially different group.
Sad! "Female suburban voters" are one thing; "independent female voters" are a quite different assemblage. To Goldstein and her legion of compatriots, this rather obvious distinction didn't seem to compute.
Meanwhile, along came a headline writer to make their report even dumber. We're left with a headline which seems to say that "suburban women" are the key to the whole shebang this year!
This work is very, very dumb, but it's basically par for the course. According to the Times report, these are the nine (9!) giants who joined forces to produce the body of the report:
Dana Goldstein is a national correspondent, writing about how education policies impact families, students and teachers across the country. She is the author of “The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession.”
Robert Gebeloff is a reporter specializing in data analysis. He works on in-depth stories where numbers help augment traditional reporting
Allison McCann is a reporter and graphics editor covering civil rights, criminal justice and, occasionally, women’s soccer for The Times. She was previously based in London on the International desk.
Brent McDonald is a senior video journalist, based in Washington. He produces short documentaries, video news stories and visual investigations.
Nailah Morgan, Julie Bosman and Jack Healy contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
This cast of thousands produced today's front-page report.
Several went to the finest schools. (Goldstein graduated from Brown, McCann graduated from Stanford).
For unknown reasons, Goldstein, an education reporter, is presented as the lead reporter on this rather different topic.
Occasionally, McCann covers women's soccer. Meanwhile, this is the way these highly educated national journalists assembled today's report:
GOLDSTEIN ET AL: In interviews with more than a dozen women in swing regions ahead of Election Day, many said they thought of themselves as apolitical. But they could not avoid the sense that politics were intruding on their lives. Notably, the women, who live in a variety of suburban settings, shared a sense of pessimism about the direction of the country. They were strained by the cost of housing and groceries, they said, and fearful of crime. Many felt freedom itself was under threat, whether the freedom they sought was the right to abortion or the right to shield their children from what they considered objectionable ideas on gender and race.
The nine (9) journalists spoke to "more than a dozen" (13) women! No one can say that this cast of thousands skimped on performing the leg work!
At any rate, nothing in the report explains or supports the headline beneath which it sits. Meanwhile, how about the actual claim in the report—the claim that "recent polls have shown that...independent female voters are tilting toward Republicans?"
That claim certainly could be true. But what is presented as evidence?
A lonely link in support of that claim leads to this earlier front-page report. That earlier report discussed results from the monthly NYT/Siena poll which was conducted in October.
Here's the passage from that report on which the Goblin Nine rely. For a fairly obvious reason, this was remarkably shaky work:
GOLDMACHER (10/17/22): The biggest shift came from women who identified as independent voters. In September, they favored Democrats by 14 points. Now, independent women backed Republicans by 18 points—a striking swing given the polarization of the American electorate and how intensely Democrats have focused on that group and on the threat Republicans pose to abortion rights.
Should anyone really believe that a shift that large—a giant shift of 32 points—had really occurred, in one month's time, among that particular group? Consider:
That entire October survey had involved 792 likely voters. Presumably, the number of respondents who were "women who identified as independent voters" was quite small—and the margin of error within that group would have been correspondingly large.
That said, so what? Shane Goldmacher reported that statistical shift without comment or words of caution—and it was on the basis of that one poll that today's nine (9) reporters seem to have made their pronouncement about what "recent polls [plural] have [supposedly] shown."
In sum, today's reporters seem to have worked from one poll—from one poll with a very small N. Some headline writer then came along and goosed what they had said. But so it routinely goes at our nation's paper of record.
We'd planned to discuss something else today, but this front-page groaner carried us away.
That said, before we read this morning's report, we perused this Kevin Drum post about a front-page report in yesterday's New York Times.
That report dealt with crime, or with perceptions of crime; its reporting was horrible too. (We think Drum, who focused on Fox, was too kind concerning the Times.)
That reporting was very weak, as Drum's data help show. But so is the reporting in today's front-page New York Times report concerning perceptions of crime!
Werewolves of Gotham, ah-ooh! The people who produced these reports went to the finest schools. By the norms of our society, these people are "highly educated."
They're our highest ranking national journalists! They're pretty much all we have, as they were back in the day when they were focused on "soccer moms" and were inventing their endless claims about the various crazy things Candidate Gore had supposedly said.
We present today's report about their work as an anthropology lesson—as an anthropology lesson concerning human capability, which is remarkably limited.
The later Wittgenstein took things ginormously farther. As we've noted in the past, everyone has agreed not to look!
(For Professor Horwich's account of that matter, you can just click here.)