Why campaign “process” articles are silly part 4,280

The entire reason for this post is to make sure that this super-flattering picture of Blanche Lincoln continues to be featured prominently on the Internet

Political reporters are SHADY!

If y’all read my posts obsessively (God knows you should) you might notice some of my subtle themes. One of those is my disdain for election “process”/”horse race” stories. Those stories don’t tell you anything more than gossip. Or meaningless statistics. Take it away, uh, Politico,* worldwide leader in process stories:

(*My position on process stories is incredibly hypocritical because I read Politico incessantly. I can’t help it, OK?! I gotta feed the monkey!)

In the final weeks leading up to the June 8 Democratic Senate runoff in Arkansas, no data proved more pivotal in shaping conventional wisdom than a pair of Research 2000 polls showing challenger Bill Halter holding a lead.

And those surveys—which fueled the narrative that Sen.Blanche Lincoln was a goner—may have been bogus, according to the blog that commissioned them.

…In late May and early June, Research 2000 surveys show[ed] Halter in the lead over the vulnerable incumbent, [Lincoln, which] helped stoke a media frenzy. The polls were cited by nearly every media outlet covering the race – from POLITICO and MSNBC to Reuters and the Arkansas Times.The data single-handedly catapulted Halter – who trailed Lincoln by three points after the May 18 primary– from insurgent to perceived frontrunner, which in turn helped advance a sky-is-falling, anti-incumbent narrative in the print and broadcast media.

What happened was the way this here poll was perceived by analysts colored the perception of the media which colored the perception of the politicos running the race despite the fact that they had a different (and, I daresay, more accurate) perception of the actual conditions of the race. Got all that?

Yeah. It doesn’t make any sense on this end, either. The takeaway is pretty obvious, though: process stories are bad for the political process. (But here we are writing them.) Process stories form the majority of the campaign coverage we see. You know the type: who has the most money, who’s leading in the polls, which candidate hired the awesome staffer who won such-and-such race. Process stories proliferate because campaigns are boring: you drive around your state or district delivering the same speech, go to perhaps 3 different kinds of events, and give the occasional thrilling drivetime radio interview.

The stay-on-my-grind reality of campaigning means that, in the absence of an epic screw-up, the press has to create the drama. That means national polls are cited and the fundraising battle makes headlines. Fundraising is important, of course (see the bit on the 8th congressional district), but once you’re an established candidate you’re probably going to raise your money at a rate comparable to the speed of your opponent’s contributions and the marginal value of the dollars you have in your treasury is going to decrease as you get more and more of them. In sum: at a certain point, you have enough and it doesn’t matter how much more you get.

And, getting back to the polling controversy that started this rambling quasi-analysis, it’s just a reminder national polls are pretty useless even if they aren’t falsified (and who knows whether or not the one in question was). Local pollsters have a lot of advantages over national ones in statewide and local races: locals know the candidates better (and can see their stock rise and fall), have a better grasp on issues (so the right questions get asked), and know what groups constitute the best samples (so the right people get asked those good questions).

So, when reading process stories, always remember what Chuck D and Flav taught us. Otherwise you might end up spending millions and millions of dollars on a race you don’t really have a chance at winning.


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