About that liberal media bias

Tweet of the night from Ezra:

Folks who believe the media is biased towards Obama should watch the cable networks tonight. Media is biased towards winners.


I told you Romney was not a horrible candidate.  He was damn good tonight.  Obama too much the rambling professor he can be at times. Here’s my insta-thoughts for the Raleigh N&O (I gave them their game analysis, but ended with some PS pushback)…

Honestly, Romney seemed sharper, more assertive, and more energetic tonight.  If we want to score this like a boxing match (which it seems that we generally cannot resist), Romney wins on points.  Certainly nothing here, though, that strikes me as a knockout blow.  Short of a complete Obama implosion, I’m not sure a knockout blow is even possible.  There’s increasing evidence from Political Science research and analysis of historical public opinion data that debates just do not have a big impact on the state of the race.  The best evidence at this point suggests Obama has about a four-point lead nationally.  The cumulative effect of the debates may help Romney to close that gap, but there’s really not an historical precedent to think that the debates will allow Romney to overcome that gap—despite how much the post-debate spin suggests otherwise.  My best guess—and its an informed one, but still just a guess—is that we’re looking at a 2004 analogy here: the debates help Romney close the gap against Obama (as they helped Kerry pull quite close to Bush), but that there’s simply not enough voters left who are truly up for grabs to allow a Romney comeback.

Listening to the TV talking heads while writing this.  Pretty clear they don’t exactly read Wonkblog or MonkeyCage.  They are pretty sure this changes everything!

Also, I did not plan on live-tweeting the whole thing, but I found that spending the debate on Twitter made it dramatically more tolerable.  I know I’m supposed to just eat this stuff up, but really I don’t.

Post journalists need to read Ezra

The latest headline:


The Post journalists need to read Wonkblog:

Debate Omnibus

So much to say about the debate, so little time.  If you care about the subject at all, Dylan Matthews’ summary of the PS on the matter is a must-read.  The conclusion:

In short, the effects on debates on eventual votes are likely mild, and, in most cases, effectively nil. Moreover, what effects do exist are often caused by factors wholly beyond the candidates’ control, like media coverage, attractiveness, and whether voters are watching a Nats game in the other panel of their TV.

I do think this post (and some Ezra posts) undersells the impact of the 2000 debates.  When Al Gore goes from a 3 point lead to a .5 win and electoral college loss in the face of massive (and unfair) negative coverage out of the debates, how do you say that doesn’t affect the outcome?  Check out this chart from Tom Holbrook:

Nate Silver this morning had a similar analysis about the fact that challenger’s party tends to benefit from debates.  Here’s his key graph:

And the other Nate provides some great insight based on all this data:

In the aftermath of the 1980 and 2004 presidential debates, strong performances by Reagan and Kerry allowed both candidates to recapture many of their latent supporters. Perhaps many of these undecided voters genuinely could have voted for either side. But the fact that they previously supported the challenging party candidate, generally disapproved of the president’s performance, and weren’t swayed by the in-party convention suggests that these voters were likely to break toward the challenger, even without a solid debate performance.

Additionally, notice that neither Kerry, nor Reagan appeared to persuade voters who had already committed to the other candidate. Carter held about 40 percent of the vote heading into the debates; he would ultimately win 41 percent of the vote. Bush held about 49 percent of the vote heading into the debates and he took 51 percent on Election Day. Neither Reagan nor Kerry secured a large enough share of the vote to indicate that they actually attracted true converts; Kerry only reached 46 or 47 percent following the debates and Reagan only moved to the mid-to-upper forties in pre-election polls.

What would a similar movement toward Romney look like in 2012? Unlike in Reagan’s case, the return of latent Romney supporters won’t give him the lead. To date, Romney hasn’t exceeded 47 percent of the vote, and a return to that number would not give him the lead, at least without a decrease in Obama’s support. Although it’s possible that Romney could convince Obama supporters to join his cause, it would probably be the first instance of the debates breaking out of the prior contours of the race.

Obama’s lead is relatively modest, especially for an incumbent president on pace for reelection. But no candidate has trailed by as much as Romney heading into the first debate and gone on to win the election. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but perhaps it’s not especially likely if it hasn’t happened before.

As I’ve been harping on to my classes (for years now), what matters is not what happens on that stage tonight, but the media narrative that develops out of what happens.  Is this likely to change the results of an election?  No.  But the polling evidence certainly suggests that it may be enough to change an very close election (right now polling suggests we’re just outside that window, but close enough that Romney could certainly win).  Though, I don’t like the idea that the debate doesn’t “matter” because that’s the raw material for the media narrative that will develop.

I think the polls will tighten, as I’ve discussed, and you can be damn sure that if they do, the media will point to some key moments in the debate whether that actually makes any sense or not.

And lastly… preparing your candidate with plenty of “zingers”?  Just fine.  Bragging to the press about how you’ve prepped your candidate to be zinger-ific?  Absolutely moronic.

A little more on the five-year old Obama video

1) Steve Benen:

The whole mess just reeked of desperation. At issue was a speech Obama delivered in 2007, as a presidential candidate, not at some secret fundraiser, but in front of a large audience at Hampton University. Reporters covered the speech, which wasn’t seen as especially controversial, and all the major networks told the public about Obama’s remarks at the time.

In other words, Drudge, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity formed a strange sort of triumvirate to hype a five-year-old video that everyone already knew about, and which doesn’t include anything interesting anyway.

Perhaps my favorite part of this silliness came when Carlson proudly boasted to Hannity on the air last night, “People will say this has already been reported. Well, actually, it hasn’t been reported. And I know because I reported on it the first time.”

Let that quote roll around in your head for a minute.

Again, just absurd that mainstream TV News was giving it so much coverage this morning.

2) Weigel (after first documenting all the coverage this actually got back in 2007):

So the MSM didn’t ignore the Hampton speech. They didn’t find it controversial, and they didn’t treat it like a controversy — not Obama references to “black folks,” not Obama’s occasional switched-up dialect.

So this isn’t really a story about Barack Obama. It’s about the media. The Caller’s one of many conservative media organizations dedicated to the principle that the media, by failing to worry Obama over his panders and biography, did not “vet” him. It doesn’t matter if the press covered an Obama story. They didn’t cover it enough. Last week’s Caller blockbuster told readers that the young Eric Holder had participated in a black student assocation’s occupation of a vacated ROTC center, and it didn’t matter that many profiles of Holder had covered this — they didn’t cover it enough. We know this, because voters did not get worried about it. This story hasn’t been reheated. The media just used a microwave, when conservatives know they should have put it in the middle of a nuclear reactor.

How to really do political polling

I was just updating this for my class lecture today and this is one of my favorite bits ever on polling. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s a must watch:

Photo of the day

When I saw a page titled “Silly Dog Photos” in Slate, I was pretty sure I’d be looking at my next photo of the day.  Love these:

this wild idea

(Theron Humphrey)

About those debate expectations

Slate collects a variety of statements from candidates and surrogates trying to lower their debate expectations as far as possible.  Romney’s “gonna wing it” definitely takes the cake.

The absolute must read for polling junkies

If you are half as interested in the polls and polling analysis as I am (and I’m sure many of you are), you absolutely have to read this fascinating article in NY Magazine.  Lots of great stuff on Nate Silver and some Nate Cohn, too, as well as all sorts of information on just how much of an “art” modern polling now is.  Just read it.


Irresponsible everyday journalism

In a world where the RCP poll averages and Nate Silver are just a click away, it is simply phenomenally dishonest journalism to pretend that the latest poll from your news organization is the most accurate reflection of the state of the race.  That’s certainly how most media reports of polls seem to be, though.  I was about to call out CBS for this based on their headline, but I’m actually pretty impressed by what they’ve done here:

Poll: Obama, Romney head to debate deadlocked

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will head to the stage for their first debate Wednesday night tied among likely voters, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll.

However, voters remain hesitant to hand off full control of the federal government to either political party.

The new survey emphasizes how close the presidential race has been so far, although most other recent polls have Obama with a narrow lead.  [emphasis mine]

I think the headline is still awfully misleading given that they are smart enough to link to Nate Silver 3 paragraphs later, but in truth, there should be way more of this in the reporting of polls.  Good to see there are now some reports that don’t pretend the latest poll exists in a vacuum.

Why TV political coverage is an absolute joke

The lead story on all the morning infotainment shows today?  A five-year old video of Obama that conservative media decided to make a big deal of last night.  This is no 47% for a number of reasons, but most notably, the speech was already covered at the time!.  Seriously?  Sean Hannity and the Daily Caller yell “jump” and CBS, NBC, and ABC all yell “how high.”  The idea that this should be the lead story is absolutely preposterous.  The Post and NYT have no major mention of it on their on-line front page (it could be there in a small font somewhere) all the more re-enforcing why I tell my students this is where they should be getting their news, not the TV networks.

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