You’ve heard the old saying – “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
The joke writes itself. Nearly every election season, Minnesota’s media runs the results of the Star-Tribune Minnesota Poll and the Humprey Institute/MPR Poll on its front pages; front and center on its 6 and 10PM newscasts; up-front in its hourly news bites; in the New York Times; prominently on that big news crawl above Seventh Street in downtown Saint Paul. To those who don’t dig into the numbers – and that’s probably 99 percent of Minnesota voters – that’s all there is to it. “Hm. Looks like Dayton’s winning big!”.
In most elections- especially the close ones – both polls (along with their downmarket stepsibling, the SCSU Poll) show numbers for GOP candidate that beggar the imagination. The media – the Strib, the TV stations, MPR – run the polls pretty much without any analysis. The job of actually fact-checking the polling falls to conservative bloggers – myself, MDE, Ed Morrissey, Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker, Gary Gross, the Dogs, Sheila Kihne and others; poll after poll, election after election, we shout into the storm “the numbers are a joke! Democrats are oversampled to an extent that is not warranted by electoral results we’ve seen in this state in nearly a generation! Would someone look into this?”
The elections take place. There is hand-wringing about the inaccuracy of the polls. Two years pass. Larry Jacobs and the Strib release still more polls, repeating precisely the same pathologies, over and over and over. Forever and ever, amen. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Now, “journalism” is supposed to be about accuracy and clarity. About telling the story, and telling it in a way that your sources reinforce your credibility and clarity. If you are a reporter, and you report a story based on a source’s information, and that information turns out to be wrong, it’s a bit of a vocational black eye.
This morning I asked, rhetorically, “do you think that if a source burned Tom Scheck or Pat Doyle or Rochelle Olson or Rachel Stassen-Berger over and over, year in and year out, by feeding them laughably inaccurate information, not just once or twice but on nearly every story on which they are a key source, would they keep using them as sources?” Without really serious corroboration, if indeed it could be found? Ever?
And yet the regional media not only continues running the Strib and HHH polls, election after election, without any serious question – until after the election, anyway. Notwithstanding the fact that the Strib’s Minnesota Poll has been very regularly wrong for a generation now. Notwithstanding the fact that the Humphrey Poll has been even more consistent in its systematic shorting of GOP candidates. The polls are still treated not only as useful news, but front-page material.
This would prompt a curious person to ask a whooooole lot of questions:
Why do the pollsters continue to generate such a defective product?: While I focused heavily over the past few days specifically on Gallup’s Frank Newport’s critique of the Humphrey Institute poll, that gives the impression that this is a one-time issue. And yet both the major media polls have had nearly the same problems, election in, election out, for a generation (or in the case of the Humphrey Institute Poll, in every major election since 2004). It’s gotten to the point where I want to stand outside 425 Portland, or outside the Humphrey Institute’s building at the U, and wave a sign about; “It’s the same thing, every time!”.
Why do the media continue to present such a routinely defective product as newsworthy?: Scott Johnson has been lighting up the “Minnesosta Poll’s” shortcomings for a solid decade now; the Strib’s poll is rarely even close, and performs worse in close elections than in blowouts. And at the risk of repeating myself, let me repeat myself; the Humphrey Institute poll has underpolled Republicans by an average of nine points. This past election was distinguished from the previous years’ ineptitude only in degree, not in concept.
Does it never occur to our “watchdogs” and “gatekeepers” to look into this? Wasn’t “insatiable curiosity” once a pre-requisite for being a reporter?
Do the editors at the Strib, the PiPress, KARE, MPR, WCCO and the rest of the regional mainstream media genuinely consider “polls are a snapshot in time” an excuse for decades worth of a pattern of inaccuracy, not only in polling technique but in their own coverage of elections?
If a city councilman is caught cashing checks to herself, would saying “it’s just a snapshot in time!” get the Strib to call their dogs off?
Appearance Of…Something?: I’ve said it before; I’m not a fundamentally conspiracy-minded person. I don’t necessarily believe that the media is involved in a conscious, considered conspiracy to short conservative candidates in close elections.
Still – given that…:
- There is no randomness to the pattern – the errors always short the GOP, and favor the DFL, and…
- The pattern has been unchanged for over two decades, and…
- There is evidence to suggest that the “Bandwagon Effect” can be driven by misleading poll results, especially with the “swing” voters that make all the difference in close races…
…I’ll ask again: if the Humphrey Institute (whose institutional sympathies lean definitively left-of-center) and the Strib (ditto) wanted to create a system that would help tip close-call contests toward the DFL, how would it be any different than the system they’ve developed?
Not accusing. Just asking.