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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democracy Ill-Served by Poll-Worshiping Media

I have no dog in this race just yet — I could easily vote for any Democratic presidential candidate over anybody in the GOP field, not only as a yellow-dog Dem, but also because we have an exceptionally strong field this time around. But it just seems wrong that the front-runners in opinion polls continue to hog so much more media face time and ink.
Don Frederick and Andrew Malcolm report in today’s L.A. Times, for example, that Hillary Clinton racked up 17 minutes and 37 seconds of speaking time in the Dartmouth debates, some 4 minutes more than Obama. They report also that Obama lead in speaking time in some of the earlier debates, even though Clinton lead in the polls. But all of the other candidates are way behind the two front-runners in debate speaking time.
I haven’t seen any studies of the amount of ink and TV face time the candidates get. But, just looking at the daily newpapers and evening news, I would not be shocked if such a study showed Clinton and Obama getting 80-90 percent of the total coverage. I would guess the political blogosphere does a little better, but not much.
That’s an awful lot of political power being given to pollsters, who, after all, were elected by nobody. True, most of the pollsters strive to be fair and rigorous in their methods. And, yes, it is the average of many polls that really drives the amount of debate time and media coverage the candidates get. And I totally understand why the media lavishes coverage on poll front-runners. They have to sell newspapers and toothpaste to stay in business.
In so doing however, they create a cycle of privilege. “Top tier” candidates get more coverage because they are doing well in the polls. Then they perform well in the polls because they get more coverage. Other well-qualified candidates can’t get arrested. Public discourse suffers. Interesting ideas don’t get a fair hearing. Promising young leaders decide not to run for office against less-qualified but more mediagenic candidates.
I don’t know if this can be fixed. But surely we can do better. Would it be too much to ask that traditional and new media make an effort to be more inclusive in their coverage?

2 comments on “Democracy Ill-Served by Poll-Worshiping Media

  1. thekidCA on

    Concerning your post concerning the increased poll number of John McCain, thus narrowing the margin between Guiliani and Romney, being that Ralph Nader’s Green Party Presidential run in 2000 took in some 2.9 million popular votes, this push in the polls of John McCain seems interesting to me in that in both cases the 3rd place candidate is take potential votes away from the front running candidate (Gore in 2000) and narrowing the total margin with the 2nd place candidate (Bush in 2000). It makes me wonder about a further question in terms of the Dem versus the GOP. Who do democratic strategists want to see as the GOP candidate in 2008 (who do they think is the most vulnerable)? And are there potential 3rd party candidates that could possibly steal some of the thunder from either the GOP or the Dem nominee?

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  2. Rocket 88 on

    The problem is the utter collapse of the primary system. There was a time when lesser-known candidates could build support and name recognition in the tiny states of Iowa and New Hampshire without spending a fortune on media buys. Now there’s a primary free-for-all and the nominating process is much more strongly tilted in favor of the candidate with the most national name recognition. Bill Clinton could not have won the nomination in 1992 under the current system, because he didn’t have a national identity back in 1991.
    Essentially the national press and pollsters will annoint the nominees of each party until the parties manage to reform the primary process. We will not get the strongest candidates; we will simply get the ones with the most name recognition.

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