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Horse Race Agonistes

Topics: 2008 , Pollsters

My latest column for NationalJournal.com, which examines criticism of poll driven "horse race" coverage, is now online.

 

Comments

Great article, Mark. The NY Times doth protest too much. I really like your suggestion of using the draw of the horse race stories to get more people reading about candidate positions and issues.

BTW, new GE matchup polls in New Jersey and Kansas.

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Andrew:

Polls should be banned 1 week before each contest, for that particular contest.

Americans are dumb and many of them become more likely to vote for one candidate if they see that candidate doing well in the polls.

Americans gave us George W. Bush twice (or once?), and Richard "Watergate" Nixon". Remember?

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Adam:

Right, Andrew, because we never had awful presidents before the advent of polling.

More generally, the implied complaint that Mark's column responds to is that people would actually read more issue-based coverage if it weren't for all the danged horserace coverage distracting them. The experiment Mark cites in his column clearly shows that implied complaint to be hogwash.

People don't invest their time to learn what the "need" to know; they invest time only in what they want to know. That's why Mark's suggestion makes such good sense: Use horserace coverage to frame issue coverage, so that readers get issue coverage despite themselves.

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Adam:

Right, Andrew, because we never had awful presidents before the advent of polling.

More generally, the implied complaint that Mark's column responds to is that people would actually read more issue-based coverage if it weren't for all the danged horserace coverage distracting them. The experiment Mark cites in his column clearly shows that implied complaint to be hogwash.

People don't invest their time to learn what the "need" to know; they invest time only in what they want to know. That's why Mark's suggestion makes such good sense: Use horserace coverage to frame issue coverage, so that readers get issue coverage despite themselves.

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Adam:

Dang it, stupid internet connection. Sorry about the double post.

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Harald K:

"...many of them become more likely to vote for one candidate if they see that candidate doing well in the polls."

Yes, people find it easier to vote for a winner. But without polls, they would still be more likely to go for the one they thought would win, they would only have a much poorer idea of who that was. And because of that, I think they would be more vulnerable to propaganda.

If people are going to have this love of perceived success (and it's by no means only an American phenomenon) they might as well be guided by accurate data.

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Andrew:

It is a matter of degree. Just because we had presidents in the past, it doesn't coontradict the notion that it is now easier for voters to vote for a candidate who we are told to be the favorite with a 95% confidence level, Because most we hear about is polls, polls and more polls. Edwards, Obama and Hillary supporters constantly fought about who was most electable.

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