It's been an interesting week to watch the pollsters and Big Media collectively scratch their heads and say "What the heck happened in Iowa and New Hampshire?". First Barak Obama and Mike Huckabee win decisively in Iowa when close races were predicted. Next Hillary Clinton clobbers Obama in New Hampshire when the "Obama election train" was supposed to be pulling out of the station, Washington bound.
Taken with the results of the '04 Presidential election, I'm more convinced than ever that pollsters really don't know a damn thing, once the general public really get interested in election. We've had 50 years of shrinking interest in elections on the part of the general public... and this has just made the process of determining "likely voters" by the pollsters a much easier process. All they need to ask is "Given apathy, who is going to drag themselves down to the polls and vote?" Since voter participation has been dropping over the last several decades, the bar of apathy has been set a little higher each time, making the results predictable. But we live in more rarefied times, and people who the pollsters would otherwise ignore are turning up at the polls and voting... flushing all the pollster's statistical models right down the toilet.
The most disgusting thing that I've seen this week is the real desire the media has to play king (or queen) maker. It's an inclination that is born out of two needs. The first is ratings. Honest curiosity about what might be on the minds of the electorate does not really attract viewers. Outrageous opinion does -- at least for a significant portion of the public that agrees with those opinions and is seeking validation. The second is that I think that Big Media wants to curry favor. Rather than being the observer at Court, Big Media has become the courtier. The White House and Campaign press pools have favorites, and they want to flatter those favorites to get "the big scoop" when something important happens... as if the last eight years haven't shown how easily the media can be manipulated for base political ends.
Glen Greenwald over at Salon.com helpfully provided the following excerpt of a discussion between Chris Matthews and Tom Brokaw, where Mr. Brokaw takes his former to task for their behavior:
MATTHEWS: Tom, we're going to have to go back and figure out the methodology, I think, on some of these [polls].
BROKAW: You know what I think we're going to have to do?
MATTHEWS: Yes sir?
BROKAW: Wait for the voters to make their judgment.
MATTHEWS: Well what do we do then in the days before the ballot? We must stay home, I guess.
BROKAW: No, no we don't stay home. There are reasons to analyze what they're saying. We know from how the people voted today, what moved them to vote. You can take a look at that. There are a lot of issues that have not been fully explored during all this.
But we don't have to get in the business of making judgments before the polls have closed. And trying to stampede in effect the process.
Look, I'm not just picking on us, it's part of the culture in which we live these days. I think that the people out there are going to begin to make judgments about us if we don't begin to temper that temptation to constantly try to get ahead of what the voters are deciding.
on 2008-01-10 at 9:54 p.m.
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