Mark Twain once observed that there are three types of media “fact-check” efforts: Democrat PR puff-pieces, Bald-Faced Democrat PR puff-pieces, and legit ones.
A good fact-checker will note that Twain said no such thing. My first paragraph was really a bit of hyperbole.
As such, it wasn’t intended to be a “factual” statement, per se, as one intended to express a subjective opinion and win people over to my side of an argument (or at least mock those who oppose me). It’s a form of rhetoric; using language to try to persuade and convince.
So while it’s not strictly “factual”, it is two things:
- It makes what I believe to be a legitimate point; from the smugly left-centric “Politifact” all the way down to most local efforts, the “Fact-Check” industry is for the most part intended to aid Democrats. My statement isn’t intended to be a “fact” so much as a rhetorical device to open my case to the reader.
- It sets off my personal opinion (based on years of reading and studying media fact-check organizations) that they are in the bag for Big Left.
Hyperbole is but one tool the rhetorician uses to state his case.
OK. I have a question: Of the three choices I gave in the first graf, what is the latest edition of MPR’s “Poligraph” – a DFL PR Effort, a Bald-Faced PR effort, or legit?
Read reporter Catherine Richert’s latest effort, and you be the judge.
Mark Twain once said that “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.”
That quote applies to a recent statement made by Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, who says two polls show he is within striking distance of Gov. Mark Dayton.
“Mark Dayton is in trouble,” reads the headline of a recent Johnson press release. “These polls confirm that Mark Dayton is in trouble, and that I am in a great position with the general election campaign just underway.”
So here are the facts. As we discussed over the past week or so, a variety of polls show the Minnesota governor’s race as being some degree of close or another: Rasmusson says 8 points; KSTP has the race at 9 points. Both show Dayton in the high forties, Johnson in the low forties.
For what they’re worth – and polls before Labor Day are of dubioius value – any of them are closer than Tom Emmer was at this point four years ago.
Richert says “But wait!”:
Dayton is in better shape than Johnson lets on.
Is it just me, or does that sound just a little cheerleader-y? Or at least like a bit of editorial commentary designed to reassure MPR’s relentlessly liberal audience?
What’s In A Poll?: Yes, it does.
Dayton has near-100% name recognition; Johnson’s is much, much lower – he just got out of the primaries, for crying out loud – and that will increase over the next few weeks. That’ll raise Johnson’s number, inevitably.
SurveyUSA (the KSTP pollsers) polled 600 “likely voters” – but their sample included 37% Democrats, 30% Republicans and 25% “independents”. Is this an accurate sample? It looks like SUSA is re-using 2012 turnout numbers. This is not going to be 2012, as KSTP/SUSA also notes.
I didn’t see crosstabs for the Rasmussen poll, but I strongly suspect their poll of 750 “likely voters”, but I’m going to guess they also lean heavily on 2012 turnout (and I’ll find out shortly).
Note: I don’t know the turnout model that’s being used; I’m inferring. Is Richert?
Judgment: Richert took two polls, with little in the way of context (although we’ll return to this below) and nothing in the way of meaningful crosstab, historical or turnout information, and plopped them in front of the reader/listener with an assurance that Dayton is juuuuuust fine:
I give this a rating of “Cherry-picked”;
What’s In A Name?: To be fair, Richert did give the reader/listener some context.
KSTP went to Larry Jacobs, who did something Richert didn’t; put the numbers into historical context:
Although Dayton has a significant lead, University of Minnesota political analyst Larry Jacobs puts the lead in historical context.
“That lead is probably going to dwindle,” Jacobs says. “That is pretty common as voters learn more about the challenger.”
Jacobs says most voters have already formed opinions about the incumbent after four years and if they’re undecided now, they’re more likely to vote for the challenger.
KSTP quoted their expert (who, to be fair, has also had his issues with polling). Richert quotes hers:
But pollster Rob Daves says Dayton’s lead is a solid one because Dayton is leading in most demographic groups. And according to the KSTP/Survey USA, Dayton has a lead in critical parts of the state, including the vote-rich Twin Cities area.
MPR is using Rob Freaking Daves as their polling expert? The same Rob Daves that singlehandledly turned the Strib “Minnesota” Poll from a modestly-accurate media poll into one of the most risible major-media polling operations in the country? A poll where, consistently, the closer the race, the more pronounced the underrepresentation of Republicans? A polling operation that continuously delivered election-eve polls that under-represented Republicans and over-counted Democrats in an effort that is a textbook bit of evidence for the “Bandwagon Effect?”
And what blazing insight did Daves give us? Dayton is doing well in the Metro?
We’ll notify the media.
(And if we assume the polls are weighted properly, the “vote-rich Twin Cities” aren’t a factor, since the polls purport to be snapshots of the entire state, which should make regional variations irrelevant anyway. Of course, as I noted above, I do not assume the polls are weighted properly – indeed, I suspect that the weighting of the KSTP poll favors the “vote-rich” metro).
Judgment: This borders on “Praetorian Guard” – a claim that furthers the perception that a news organization is actively serving as an organ of a political party…:
I’ll stick with a rating of “Huh?”. I mean – Rob Daves?
ROB FREAKING DAVES?
Much Ado: Let’s also remember; it was a press release.
In which the Johnson campaign correctly noted that :
- Dayton is polling below 50% – lackluster for a candidate with 100% name recognition a week after the primary in which he was uncontested and his challenger had just vanquished a four-way pack. Factual.
- Johnson is within single digits – which does, indeed, mean Johnson is behind. Factual.
- The rhetorical statement “Dayton is in trouble”. An utterly subjective piece of rhetoric intended to convince the press release’s audience – not without some evidence, by Richert’s own admission – that Johnson is in the race.
Richert calls this bit of subjective campaign rhetoric “misleading” – but omits any context one way or the other, but for the assurances of a pollster who is justifiably regarded as a DFL shill.
Judgment: At the very best, this is using the “resources” of a major news organization to heckle a subjective bit of campaign rhetoric.
I give this a grade of “Obtuse”.
Damned Lies: So let’s go back to the top – to the Mark Twain quote.
MPR has presented a set of statistics – by way of heckling a subjective campaign statement in a press release that, by Richert’s own admission, contained completely accurate information – that tried to make the case that Mark Dayton is in juuuust peachy shape (provided you ignore history, methodology, the dynamics of campaigns, or basically everything but raw top-line numbers).
What does that make this report? Statistics, damned lies, or the other kind?
UPDATE: The essential Bill Glahn notes that there’s some history behind MPR’s dismissal of the GOP’s chances:
As MPR concedes Johnson correctly quotes the results of the recent polls. Where he errs, in MPR’s view, is to draw too optimistic a conclusion about where he stands.
In true Pauline Kael fashion MPR has not met anyone on their staff or in their audience that will vote Republican this November. So, for Johnson to speak optimistically about his chances can only mislead the general electorate.
Besides, MPR pronounced the 2014 race over more than a year and a half ago, months before Johnson even entered the race. In MPR’s view, for Johnson to keep up his challenge is just wasting everyone’s time.
Read the whole thing.
I’ve always spoken highly of MPR News’ efforts to produce balanced, dispassionate news coverage.
Between Poligraph and Keri Miller, I’m starting to have my doubts.