What the press should be biased for

Great post from Jay Rosen (my favorite media critic) on what the press should have a bias for.  Here’s my favorite parts from his list:

But there are things they can advocate for in a contested election— and other things they can legitimately oppose. Here is my list:

Pro-participation: Democracy is not a spectator sport. The more people who participate in the system the stronger it is. Journalists can safely advocate that people go out and vote. They can, I think, legitimately oppose efforts to discourage people from voting.

Pro-verification. “Did that actually happen?” “Is there good evidence for it?” “Can it be squared with what we know?” Journalists should reward with focused attention truth claims that can be verified, and they should penalize (by publicly doubting them) other claims that do not meet that test…

Against demagoguery. The attempt to gain power through a charismatic appeal to fear, prejudice, ignorance and an animus toward the “other” contradicts everything that principled journalists stand for. In the degree that such appeals succeed, they render impotent the basic acts of reporting and verification. When journalists combat demagogic argument they are not exceeding their brief. They are meeting their mission.

I have phrased these items as permissions: they are allowed to… they are on firm ground when… But it would be just as correct to use a term like obligations. If in covering the campaign journalists cannot stand up for informed participation, rigorous verification, a fact-based debate, real accountability; if they can’t find a way to oppose opacity and demagoguery, then they will sell themselves short and encourage the rest of us to tune them out.

And, of course, in a competitive electoral environment, this potentially has very real consequences (it certainly does in this one):

And now we come to the really hard part. When journalists press for the things I say they can press for; when they fight against what they ought to fight against, the results are unlikely to be “neutral.” They are going to wind up penalizing some candidacies more than others. If making stuff up to mobilize fear and prejudice is the political style to which a candidate has become attached, journalists will have to set themselves against that style. And they will have to call it by its proper names.

To committed supporters this will seem like joining the other team. It’s not, but it will seem so. [emphasis mine] There is no easy solution, especially at a time when institutional trust is bottoming out. But to feign neutrality toward the causes of ruin would be far worse.

To a not inconsiderable degree, I’d say we could judge the quality of a news organization by how willing they are to follow these values (or similar ones) that Rosen lays out as opposed to appearing neutral at all costs.


On making American great again 

This quote from Ron Brownstein (in a podcast via a Leonhardt post) nails it:

“Republicans have to find a way to talk to a changing America,” says Brownstein, who was a data-friendly political journalist before it was cool. “The key word in the Trump lexicon is ‘again.’ If you’re a 32-year-old Hispanic lawyer or a 27-year-old African-American architect or a 40-year-old white professional woman or a gay couple in Charlotte, North Carolina, you may not think things are perfect now, but there is no mythical ‘again’ you are trying to get back to.”


What went wrong for Gary Johnson?

asks the headline in Harry Enten’s latest analysis.  My answer– nothing.  Lacking a strong, positive appeal of their own (i.e., Wallace, Perot), third party candidates inevitably fade as election day nears.  Johnson is totally in keeping with this trend.  Enten:

This was supposed to be the year the Libertarian Party went mainstream. Given the two historically unpopular major party candidates and with aformer governor, Gary Johnson, as their nominee, things were looking good for the Libertarians. Johnson made it onto the ballot in all 50 states. He was regularly polling in the low double digits, and his support held up after the Democratic and Republican parties’ conventions — past the point when most third-party candidates begin to fade.

Things, however, have taken a turn for the worse for Johnson. His numbers are dropping — from about 9 percent in national polls in August to 6 percent now — and he’s been overshadowed by another (and previously even more obscure) third-party candidate…

Another plausible explanation is that Johnson was simply a “protest” choice. Perhaps many voters who said they were going to vote for him weren’t really interested in Johnson specifically but were merely voicing frustration with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton instead. There’s evidence for this. In August, when Johnson was flying high, a majority of voters had no opinion of him. In addition, many younger voters who as a group voted heavily for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary said they were going to vote for Johnson, even though Johnson and Sanders have very different ideologies. That seemed at least a little unsustainable. Indeed, as the campaign has taken shape and Sanders stumps for Clinton, Johnson’s numbers seem to be falling with young voters as Clinton’s rise.

In a historical sense, Johnson will still do quite well for a largely-unknown, poorly-funded, third party candidate.  Enten’s model (and my intuition) still think he’ll get over 5%.  One thing we know clearly about third party presidential voting is that it is, in significant degree, a sign of dissatisfaction with major party candidates.  And that likely gets us well above the 1-2% we commonly see.  But to really go well beyond the 5-6% Johnson will probably get, there’s got to be some real love for Gary Johnson, the actual candidate, not Johnson, the “not Trump or Clinton.”  And he’s not getting that and “Aleppo” moments and not being able to name a single admirable foreign leader surely don’t help.

How to read a poll (and how not to conduct one)

Nate Cohn wrote this a couple weeks ago, but with Republicans hanging all their hopes these days on the massive outlier polls from IBD/TIPP it’s worth posting Cohn’s piece on how to make sense of any single poll.  Lots of good advice, but I especially liked this part:

Comparing Where They Were

To get a sense of whether a poll is good or bad news for a certain candidate, I usually compare the results of the poll with the polling averages or the last poll conducted by the same pollster.

■ If the poll is very different from the polling average, there’s a good chance it’s an outlier. [emphasis mine]

■ If the poll shows a big shift from a prior survey, I also wonder whether the previous poll was an outlier. If so, a candidate might appear to rebound simply because he or she was unusually weak in a prior poll. So compare that prior poll with the average of the time, too.

■ It’s also worth looking at whether the candidate has gained or lost vote share. When candidates fall without good reason, I often assume they’re likelier than not to win back their former supporters. I definitely take note when candidates have won more supporters than they’ve won before. If that happens a lot, it’s a real sign of strength…

■ I really don’t look at party identification. We have no idea what the “right” partisan breakdown of the electorate really is: It’s an attitude, not a nearly fixed characteristic.

Depending on the news or the national political environment, Republican-leaning or Democratic-leaning voters can switch in and out of the “unaffiliated” or “independent” column. It is very clear that there are more self-identified Democrats than Republicans in the country, which has been true for about a decade.

But I will look at party registration, if it’s available from the voter file. That’s a pretty fixed characteristic: It doesn’t swing with the mood.

Also, an amazing story of polling gone wrong.  You may have noticed one particular poll (LA Times) that seemingly has a huge pro-Trump bias.  Turns out it is largely due to a single 19-year old Black man.  Nate Cohn again:

There is a 19-year-old black man in Illinois who has no idea of the role he is playing in this election.

He is sure he is going to vote for Donald J. Trump.

And he has been held up as proof by conservatives — including outlets like Breitbart News and The New York Post — that Mr. Trump is excelling among black voters. He has even played a modest role in shifting entire polling aggregates, like the Real Clear Politics average, toward Mr. Trump.

How? He’s a panelist on the U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, which has emerged as the biggest polling outlier of the presidential campaign. Despite falling behind by double digits in some national surveys, Mr. Trump has generally led in the U.S.C./LAT poll. He held the lead for a full month until Wednesday, when Hillary Clinton took a nominal lead.

Our Trump-supporting friend in Illinois is a surprisingly big part of the reason. In some polls, he’s weighted as much as 30 times more than the average respondent, and as much as 300 times more than the least-weighted respondent…

Alone, he has been enough to put Mr. Trump in double digits of support among black voters. He can improve Mr. Trump’s margin by 1 point in the survey, even though he is one of around 3,000 panelists.How has he made such a difference? And why has the poll been such an outlier? It’s because the U.S.C./LAT poll made a number of unusual decisions in designing and weighting its survey…

A typical national survey usually weights to make sure it’s representative across pretty broad categories, like the right number of men or the right number of people 18 to 29.

The U.S.C./LAT poll weights for many tiny categories: like 18-to-21-year-old men, which U.S.C./LAT estimates make up around 3.3 percent of the adult citizen population. Weighting simply for 18-to-21-year-olds would be pretty bold for a political survey; 18-to-21-year-old men is really unusual.

On its own, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with weighting for small categories like this. But it’s risky: Filling up all of these tiny categories generally requires more weighting.

A run of the U.S.C./LAT poll, for instance, might have only 15 or so 18-to-21-year-old men. But for those voters to make up 3.3 percent of the weighted sample, these 15 voters have to count as much as 86 people — an average weight of 5.7.

When you start considering the competing demands across multiple categories, it can quickly become necessary to give an astonishing amount of extra weight to particularly underrepresented voters — like 18-to-21-year-old black men.

Anyway, maybe the LA Times poll is right and almost everybody else is just wrong.  But, I strongly suspect we’ll have proof otherwise come November 8.

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