- Jun 11, 2004
Source: Seattle TimesPoll-obsessed media focus on strategy over substance
With just a few weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, polls are providing pundits and political junkies with fresh data to spin out a new round of the usual "who's up, who's down" campaign coverage. But while the press seems settled on a new narrative for the campaign, journalists should recall what the polls told them last time around about who would likely win the Iowa caucuses.
The tone of coverage of the Democratic race seemed to shift when a Nov. 19 ABC/Washington Post poll of likely caucus-goers showed a tight race among three candidates: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.
The difference from the previous survey was within the poll's margin of error, so the actual data said very little. Much of the media seemed to think otherwise. "The ground may be shifting," announced NBC anchor Brian Williams. The Los Angeles Times called it "a shift in momentum in this crucial state" ? in an article that boiled the race down to just two candidates, Clinton and Obama.
The Washington Post's write-up was downright confusing ? the Post mentioned the results were "only marginally different" from their poll several months prior, yet nonetheless pointed to "significant signs of progress for Obama ? and harbingers of concern for Clinton."
On ABC, reporter Kate Snow mentioned something most of her colleagues seemed unconcerned with: the fact that these polls actually tell you very little about the outcome of the race. Snow recalled that "four years ago, John Kerry ? who eventually was the Democratic nominee ? he was polling in Iowa at 4 percent."
Indeed, campaign reporters should all remember the lesson of the 2004 Iowa caucus. A little more than a month before Iowa Democrats actually caucused in January, the poll-obsessed media had narrowed down the field to two "front-runners": Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
"Two See Iowa as Crucial Battleground," announced The Washington Post on Nov. 29, 2003, billing the race as a "fight rich in substance and symbolism." A Nov. 9 Post report said that Dean was "for the first time, threatening to pull away from the pack," and even discussed his "opening for a quick-kill strategy" by winning Iowa and New Hampshire.
The polling was presumably a key factor leading reporters to reach such conclusions. A December 2003 Pew poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers showed Dean leading the pack with 29 percent, followed by Gephardt at 21 percent.
Kerry was in third with 18 percent, followed by John Edwards at 5 percent. A Zogby poll from around the same time had a closer race between Dean and Gephardt (26 to 22 percent), with Kerry and Edwards picking up 9 and 5 percent, respectively.
And what happened when Iowa Democrats actually caucused? Kerry won with 37 percent, followed by Edwards at 32 percent. "Front-runners" Dean and Gephardt finished with 18 and 11 percent, respectively.
The point is not just to note that polls at this stage are hardly predictive ? though the media acknowledging as much would be a start. Nor is it to wish that the national press would simply work at finding a better method of declaring which candidates are "front-runners," and whose campaigns aren't worth your attention.
The more fundamental problem for the press ? and for American democracy ? is that the media's overreliance on polls encourages a kind of political conversation that prioritizes strategic consideration and tactics over substance.
A recent study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism confirmed that much of what passes for campaign journalism focuses primarily on the tactical dimensions of the race (like poll results and fundraising) and not on the actual policy differences between the candidates.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, former ABC News political director and current Time magazine editor-at-large Mark Halperin admitted that most political coverage is built around the notion that you can judge candidates' potential to be a good president based on how well they run their campaigns.
Halperin admits he was "wrong," and suggests a change of course: Journalists "should examine a candidate's public record and full life as opposed to his or her campaign performance." What a concept. But then Halperin added a strange qualifier: "But what might appear simple to a voter can, I know, seem hard for a journalist."
Halperin seems to be saying that if you think it's hard to cover the substance of electoral politics, it's a good bet you're a campaign reporter.
That's bad news, to say the least ? and makes it hard to imagine journalists are going to change any time soon.
So Kerry was polling at 4% nationally and between 9-18% in Iowa right before the caucus. John Edwards was polling at 5% in Iowa immediately prior to the caucus.
The supposed frontrunners were Howard Dean polling at 26-29% and Gephardt polling at 21-22 % in Iowa.
How did the Iowa caucus turn out?
Source: NewsMaxZogby: Ron Paul Will Surprise You
Friday, December 21, 2007 2:16 PM
By: John Zogby Article Font Size
If we have learned one thing this year in American politics, it's that there is no such thing as an inevitable President. In my last column, I outlined my thoughts about the Democratic presidential candidates - now, the Republicans.
Rudy Giuliani: I believe Rudy had a flawed strategy right from the outset. The whole idea was that his name recognition and national numbers would turn him into the inevitable candidate and that he needn't spend time in or worry about Iowa or New Hampshire because his national numbers would just automatically lift him up. If for some reason they didn't, he would be a sure shot to win in Florida, and then proceed into the big states on February 5, where he would be automatically have the money on hand to be able to compete in the television markets of New York and California and umpteen other states.
I always thought that was a mistake, because Iowa is extremely important, and a loss there, particularly an embarrassing loss, would produce several days of negative stories. The primary system is all about momentum and I think everyone is beginning to see that. He can still win the nomination, but even he has begun to see that he might end up in fourth- or even fifth-place in Iowa, third- or fourth-place in New Hampshire. Now, he's even down in Florida, because someone else - Mike Huckabee - has gained momentum in Iowa and built on it nationally.
Mitt Romney: Romney, interestingly, had the exact opposite strategy of Rudy: to spend a lot of money in the early states and build a compelling lead, so he'd roll in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then carry that momentum with him. And for a while it looked like that was working. He can still win the nomination. I suspect he will end up doing well in Iowa and he continues to lead in New Hampshire and is among the leaders in South Carolina and Florida. What he did not count on was Mike Huckabee.
Mike Huckabee: In addition to Huckabee's numbers going up dramatically in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, we've also seen a dramatic decrease in the numbers of undecideds among Republicans. Translated: Many conservatives have told us they were unhappy with the field of candidates and were looking for a conservative leader and winner. Frankly, they hadn't considered Huckabee because he just didn't look like he had a chance. You combine his strong numbers with conservatives and respectable showing among independents and moderates, because he appears to be so affable and rational, and the Republicans right now are experiencing a Mike Huckabee "boomlet." The key question, is, however, are these just Huckabee's few days in the sun, at a time of the year when daylight is at its shortest?
John McCain: Talk about a little boomlet. John McCain seems to be getting his now, too. His candidacy bottomed out several months ago for a number of reasons, including internal campaign disputes and overspending, as well as a redefinition of McCain that undefined the John McCain of 2000: the war hero, the maverick, the straight-talker. But for those Republicans who want to believe that the surge in Iraq is working, that issue is less on the table, no longer hurting McCain, and he's very much back to being the maverick warrior. McCain's numbers in Iowa are disastrous, because he never campaigned there and he opposes ethanol subsidies. But he may just do better than expected, moving into third or fourth place, then on to New Hampshire where he runs a respectable second for now. His biggest problem is he has no money.
Fred Thompson: I've never seen the point of his candidacy. I still don't get it. There are some who suggest that he's caught some fire and he could come in second or third place in Iowa, as Huckabee or Romney fades. But right now, his candidacy has all the qualities of Baltic Avenue in a Republican sea of St. Charles Places. (Note: If Thompson wins the nomination, my comments here are for entertainment purposes only.)
Ron Paul: He's going to do better than anyone expects. Look to Paul to climb into the double-digits in Iowa. Why? He's different, he stands out. He's against the war and he has the one in four Republicans who oppose the war all to himself. Libertarianism is hot, especially among free-market Republicans and 20-somethings. And he's an appealing sort of father figure. He's his own brand. All he needs to do is beat a couple of big names in Iowa, then New Hampshire is friendlier territory. After all, the state motto is "Live Free or Die."
Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Alan Keyes are also running and they have no chance.
There is a real possibility that there will be no clarity on the Republican side after February 5. The best-laid plans of front-loaders may have backfired. Figure out that mixed metaphor.
Please consolidate multiple similar thread topics into one to alleviate traffic in the forum, thanks!
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