For Clinton, Good News Is No News When It Comes To Polling

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

There are lots of different ways campaigns can try to "win" the daily news cycle. Scoring a high-profile endorsement or releasing a new campaign commercial have proven successful in recent days, for example. Another traditional way is to post winning poll numbers, the catnip of the campaign press.

If that's the case, Hillary Clinton's camp probably thought yesterday was shaping up as an overall positive. In the morning, a new Monmouth/KBUR poll was released showing the former secretary of state with a 9-point lead in the very competitive state of Iowa, which holds its caucus on February 1.

A few hours later, Emerson College released an Iowa poll and it also indicated Clinton enjoyed a 9-point lead. At the time, it meant Clinton had led in eight of the previous ten Iowa polls taken, which translates into positive news coverage, right?

Wrong.

Because around 5 p.m., CNN released its latest Iowa polling results, showing Senator Bernie Sanders with an 8-point advantage. So instead of basking in positive coverage about leading in two of the three latest Iowa polls, Clinton had to settle for "it's a draw" reports regarding Thursday's three Iowa polls, right?

Wrong, again.

Instead of reporting on the three polls, several major news organizations yesterday ignored the first two polls and only reported on the CNN survey.

At The New York Times, the CNN poll was news: But the KBUR and Emerson polls were not covered. 

At Time, the CNN poll was big news. ("Sanders surges.") But the KBUR and Emerson polls were not covered.

At Politico, the CNN poll was big news. But the KBUR and Emerson polls were not covered.

More? According to a TVEyes search, both CBS This Morning and NBC's Today reported on the CNN poll ("a big change") this morning, and ignored the KBUR and Emerson polls.

For lots of news outlets, only the CNN Iowa poll was treated as newsworthy on Thursday. That's remarkable. 

I wonder if this is how the newsroom conservations unfolded:

Reporter: Three news Iowa polls!

Editor: Who's winning?

Reporter: Clinton leads in two, Sanders in one.

Editor: Just write up the Sanders poll.

Reporter: And ignore the good-news-for-Clinton polls?

Editor: Yeah.

I understand that journalists sometimes like to cherrypick the polling results that cover a span of days or weeks and select the data that fits the tale scribes are trying to tell. It's a dishonest tactic, but a common one inside newsrooms. But this goes so far beyond cherrypicking. This is just flat-out ignoring polling results from two surveys that are published on the same day that journalists swarm around a third poll with different results.

The practice highlights the disturbing trend of campaign reporters and pundits wanting to tell a particular tale and then fitting (jamming?) information into that construct. In the past, the campaign press was generally tasked with reporting and reflecting what was happening on the trail, not with whipping contests into preferred narratives. (FYI, The press has been hyping Clinton's 'doomed' polling numbers for months and months.)

And for months, Hillary Clinton's campaign has watched as very good polling results for her have been lightly brushed off by the press, especially national polls that often showed her with commanding leads in the Democratic primary, as well as her beating possible Republican challengers.  

The heavy-handed attempt to mold storylines has led to some baffling journalism. Today, the Post simply announced as fact that Sanders is "leading in polls by single digits in Iowa." While Sanders has had leads in a few polls, Clinton is still up in the state according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. 

Earlier this week, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Clinton with a 25-point national lead over Sanders. On television, NBC seemed to signal its own poll didn't matter much. Reporting from South Carolina for the NBC Nightly News on January 18, the day after the poll was released, Andrea Mitchell stressed that even though Clinton was "still far ahead in the national polls," unnamed Democrats "say that if the dominos start falling in the first states the entire shape of this campaign could change very quickly."

Yes, Iowa's close. Is polling for the caucus notoriously unreliable? It can be. So nobody really knows who's going to win. But because some journalists seem to want Clinton to lose because it would make a better story (i.e. her polling's a "nightmare"), that doesn't give then the right to simply ignore polling data that dents their preferred narrative. 

Posted In
Elections
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