21 days out and has the media learned any lessons from 2016?

By Dave Andrusko

Once upon a time, the Associated Press was rightly considered a reasonably objective news source. It is less so today, This is hugely important. With more and more newspapers facing a grim financial future, purchasing stories from the AP is a huge cost saver. For example when I was back home in August for a family vacation, I noticed that the bulk of my home town newspaper’s national—and all its international coverage—came from the AP or the New York Times.

So I read with amusement something that came to me yesterday under the hashtag #APSTYLECHAT TODAY. And, no, I didn’t have time to join in and, no, this part of this post is not about bias. That comes later.

“The countdown to Election Day is on and AP Stylebook is here to help you prepare for the midterms Nov. 6,” I read. “Join us on Twitter at 2:30 p.m. EDT today for pointers on the style of politics and polling, with guest experts David Scott and Jerry Schwartz, longtime AP journalists with years of experience covering politics.”

Many of the topics were (of course) about style. Here are two

  • What’s the correct way to report election results? Are vote counts always figures even when there are fewer than 10 votes? Do you use a dash, hyphen or other separator between vote totals?
  • Why don’t we use the expression “heading to the polls” on Election Day?

Is the Republic going to rise or fall depending on whether we “use a dash, hyphen or other separator between vote totals”?

My question of the AP (the New York Times is hopeless) was more along the lines of what polling guru Nate Silver told Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post in a story that appears today.

In a word, Silver –“ the closest thing there is to a celebrity in the arcane field of statistical journalism” —is not optimistic journalists learned the lessons of 2016. That was the election, you recall, where journalists and many pollster attempted to outdo one another in telling us how absolutely improbable was Donald Trump’s election.

I won’t get into Silver’s predictions for the House and Senate 21 days from today, not because I am any sort of statistical wizard (I’m not), but because predictions in off-presidential year elections are notoriously inaccurate. As Sullivan (who, as it happens, absolutely loathes President Trump) explained, “Midterm elections present their own predictive challenges: There’s a lot less data, fewer polls to analyze, in states and regions than in a national election.”

But that won’t stop simplistic headlines telling us that Democrats have this huge lead in the generic vote (where people simply say which party they’d vote for if the election were held that day)and therefore Democratic capture of the House is practically a sure thing.

We talked about this yesterday. In a word the Democrats may—may—have a 10 or 11 point advantage in the generic ballot but that superiority is explained in large part by huge margins in areas where the Democrat is going to win easily. In competitive areas, there is no Democratic advantage, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

And as we also discussed yesterday, not enough weight is being given to the rise in President Trump’s job approval numbers and the impact of his many campaign stops in key states where he is drawing tremendous numbers.

So, keep coming back to NRL News Today. We will continue to give you a more realistic and balanced and accurate picture of where we are electorally.