When I saw that Eric Black – formerly of the Strib, now at the Minnpost – had written a piece entitled “Redistricting maps give DFL advantage in legislative races, but …”, I went “uh oh”.
I mean, Eric Black is no leftyblogging bobblehead. He’s one of the Deans Of Minnesota Political Journalism (although to be fair Minnesota Political Journalism has more deans than the MNSCU system).
And while I don’t want to frame the redistricting in especially partisan terms, the fact is that the maps didn’t really adequately reflect Minnesota’s most important current demographic trend – people fleeing the failed DFL-controlled Twin Cities and Duluth, and moving to areas that actually work, which are universally and without exception GOP-controlled. They bent over backwards to maintain the Twin Cities’ control over Minnesota politics, especially at the Congressional level.
Now – before I get into Black’s actual piece, here – let’s go over a tiny little bit of the theory of journalism.
Print journos know that the number of people who actually read any given point in a story drops, almost geometrically, the further into the story you get. If 1000 eyeballs scan the headline, 100 might read the opening paragraph or two. Of those 100, 10 might plod through the middle. If there’s a jump, or if it takes longer than a few minutes to plod through, barring some immediate personal interest, 1 might get to the end of the piece (the numbers are made-up, but they’re neither gratuitously far-off nor conceptually wrong).
So copy editors write headlines that try to lure as many eyeballs as possible into the story – and generations of editors have groused at reporters “don’t bury the lede” – because in print news (and its red-headed stepchild, online journalism), the first impression may be the only impression you get.
And with that headline and its key message- DFL ADVANTAGE!!!! – ringing in my mind, I tucked into the rest of the story:
When the new decennial map of Minnesota’s legislative districts was unveiled in late February, most neutral observers said the DFL had won the battle for a favorable map. But the degree of the DFL victory may have been understated. If the map is destiny (which it isn’t, but it can change the odds), the DFL may have a decent shot at taking back control of both houses of the Minnesota Legislature in the 2012 election.
The degree of DFL victory “may have been understated”.
That’s the lede. And ledes are important for that portion of Minnesota’s population that reads past the headline – which, as we established in the headline, says the maps were a big win for the DFL (“but…”).
And who – other than those “neutral sources” – is behind this claim (and I’ll add emphasis):
DFL State Chair Ken Martin recently told me that the way his party scores the partisan lean of the new districts, the DFL has at least a slight advantage in 73 House districts and 34 Senate districts. If (a big “if” unless and until it happens) the DFL candidates were to prevail in those districts, it would give the party a substantial (73-61) majority in the House and a bare (34-33) single vote majority in the Senate.
So after a headline and a lede that proclaim that the DFL was the big winner, we get the source – Ken Martin. The Chair of the DFL, after coming from “Win Minnesoita“, which is part of the DFL money shell-game that pays for all the DFL’s attack ads (and thus, all of its messaging, period).
So to the reader’s perception, the story really says THE DFL HAS A HUGE ADVANTAGE (according to the head of the DFL).
And we know this…
To be precise for the total political wonks in the audience, the DFL has developed a methodology that looks – precinct by precinct – at DFL votes across the last many elections. (As you can imagine, the partisan breakdown of a precinct can vary from year to year and from race to race within a given year.) The DFL method massages the numbers into what it called the DPI (Democratic Performance Index) of each precinct. And now that they know which precincts go with which state House and Senate districts, they can calculate which districts have a DPI of greater than 50 percent, which means that the DFL should have an advantage in winning and hold that seat.
…because the DFL did a bunch of math…
Before you get too excited (or upset, depending on your partisan preference) you should know that:
a) Martin didn’t release the map of the DFL-leaning districts nor the numbers on which the calculation is based, so skeptics cannot check his statement;
b) The Pioneer Press, which published a similar calculation, reached a significantly less favorable DFL number on the Senate map. (The Pi-Press analysis did indicate that the DFL has the map potential to take back control of the House and gain ground – but enough for control – in the Senate); and
c) Everyone that I interviewed for this post assured me that, while the map is important, it is neither the only nor even the most important thing.
…which was likely b*llsh*t, and even the media knows it.
But it’s worth, apparently, putting as an unvarnished headline and lede.
Because it’s one of the narratives the DFL wants spread far and wide; their success is inevitable. Don’t ask why – they won’t tell you. Just keep repeating it, Dems. Just interenalize it, conservatives!
The DFL’s main hope this election is to drive down conservative enthusiasm – which slaughtered them two years ago – and try to create some sort of bandwagon effect on the left.
Prediction: An upcoming Minnesota Poll or Humphrey Institute survey will show that A MAJORITY OF MINNESOTANS (from a sample that over-counts DFLers 3:2) APPROVE OF DAYTON’S JOB AS GOVERNOR.