James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘political polls’

How many cell phone users won’t vote for a black guy?

Posted by James McPherson on October 15, 2008

I raise the above question–not a serious one–to highlight a couple of issues that concern pollsters who worry that today’s political polls may be flawed. The first is the so-called “Bradley effect,” which supposes that many people who tell pollsters they favor an African American candidate will then cast ballots for a white candidate instead.

With Barack Obama we’ve also heard discussion of a supposed “reverse Bradley effect,” which theorizes that some white people might not openly admit they’ll cross racial lines to vote, but under certain conditions (such as a compelling individual candidate or a collapsing economy while the white candidate’s party is in the White House)  will do so in the privacy of the polling booth.

Another issue, raised by the National Journal today, is related to cell phone usage. As I noted back in August when I predicted a substantial Barack Obama victory: “Many surveys rely heavily on phone interviews, which tend to underrepresent college students and techno-savvy people who rely on cell phones and/or computer phone services instead of traditional landlines. Yet those people are the ones who seem to be among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters. I would not be surprised in this election to see Obama’s numbers underrepresented by 5 percent or more in many polls.”

I actually hope the polls are screwed up (assuming my favored candidate wins, of course); maybe then journalists will stop relying so much on polling for political coverage. Unfortunately if the polls are significantly wrong, many people will suspect another culprit: voter fraud.

Conservatives are now beating a drum about ACORN–despite the facts that the voter registration problems involving signature gatherers were discovered and reported by the organization itself, that no real problem exists (after all, “Mickey Mouse isn’t showing up on election day, and states have safeguards built in), and that the ploy is an obvious Republican smear designed to harm the credibility of the organization.

As Editor & Publisher points out, it is too bad (though perhaps not surprising) that so many in the media have helped hype the story, while turning a blind eye to the type of voter problems that may have cost Democrats the presidency in both 2000 (in Florida) and 2004 (in Ohio), and which Republicans are pursuing for this election, as well. “The allegations can also help cover up actual election fraud undertaken on behalf of McCain,” author Glenn W. Smith writes, adding that the media seem to find the more common situations that limit voter turnout to be somehow less egregious than the remote possibility that someone might accidentally be allowed to cast a vote: “Exclusion is a tradition with deep roots in our cultural narratives and founding documents. Historically accustomed as we are to exclusion, maybe we don’t judge it to be news.”

As for the supposed “threat” of ACORN, John McCain characterized the organization more fairly a couple of years ago as a keynote speaker FOR the group. You can see his remarks, along with more voter fraud discussion, in the first video (from “Countdown”) below. If you have the stomach for it, the second video–with claims similar to those made in an ad that drew a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact.org, shows the new, dishonest, attacking McCain perspective. In about an hour from this writing, we’ll see which version shows up for the debate.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Obama convention bump, and the McCain bump in the road

Posted by James McPherson on September 2, 2008

If the polls are to be believed (and as I’ve written before, at this point they shouldn’t be taken too seriously), Barack Obama apparently got a perhaps-significant bump out of the Democratic National Convention. The lastest Gallup national tracking poll has him getting 50 percent of registered voters, up from 41 percent early in the convention (right in line with the 8-12 percent increase I predicted).

Of course other polls have Obama moving up much less, if at all, illustrating that negligible value of these things at this point. But the media and bloggers on both sides keep using them to support faulty arguments.

For the record, I expect the GOP to get a much smaller boost from its convention, partly because it was shaping up to be less interesting to begin with (no stadium, older candidate, less conflict), partly because of Hurricane Gustav and the many political and personal questions surrounding Sarah Palin and her place on John McCain’s ticket.

McCain’s convention probably won’t copy the John Kerry trick of four years ago of actually bringing his party farther down, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see things stay where they are, and I’d be surprised at a jump of more than two or three points.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Sarah Palin draw a bigger audience Wednesday than John McCain does Thursday if their speeches are on consecutive nights. The Republicans may want to stay with their hurricane-induced proposal of having both speak on the same night, the last night of the convention. After all the Dems won’t be able to counter the next day with something as dramatic as what the Republicans did last Friday.

On the other hand, though I don’t expect it, the GOP may do something equally dramatic on bad-news Friday.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

McCain camp’s lie suggests early desperation

Posted by James McPherson on July 31, 2008

The John McCain-Karl Rove folks spent days telling us that Barack Obama changed his mind about visiting a military hospital because he could not take reporters. Right-wing media quickly began reinforcing the charge, despite a lack of any evidence to support it.

Tucker Knows-No Bounds, McCain’s primary spokesman, was spewing the same claim a couple of days ago. When pressed by a few reporters who saw fit to do their jobs and seek evidence, Bounds “provided three examples–none of which had alleged that Obama wanted to take members of the media to the hospital.” (Washington Post) In other words, the McCain camp spent days repeating a lie, then after all that time still could not find ONE shred of evidence to support what they’d been saying. But they didn’t stop there. They created a misleading commercial to reinforce the lie.

I view a lie as a bit different that a flip-flop, though both candidates have been guilty of too many flips. (See several examples of McCain’s flip-flops and misstatements in the videos below.) The latter might come from raised awareness, while the former simply reflects desperation or a craven indifference to both truth and the electoral process.

While Ben Stein and others may support such activities, they actually reveal a bit of desperation on McCain’s part. McCain, who criticized Obama for not visiting other countries while McCain did, then switched and criticized Obama for traveling abroad while McCain was at home, has no coherent message. As a result, he ends up running silly ads like the one that drew so much media attention yesterday for comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton–asking if he was “qualified to lead” while showing glowing images of Obama that show him apparently… er, leading. Doh! Even Rove, when asked about the ad in a Fox interview, called it “odd” and said he didn’t really understand it before quickly skipping to other issues, and sneaking in a sly reference suggesting yet again that the original McCain lie about the Obama troop visit was true. But even Andrea Mitchell–definitely no fan of Obama’s–points out that the lie is, in fact, a lie (see video here).

McCain apparently has gained a bit in the polls, but runs the risk that negative campaigning will alienate the less extreme (and fortunately for him, typically less informed) part of the electorate that traditionally has provided his base. He probably needs those folks, especially since many conservatives still don’t trust him. Rove knows that negative campaigning can reduce the overall turnout, though it seems a bit early for the GOP to consider that their only hope of victory.

Many gaffes are yet to come, and vice presidential candidates have yet to be named. Most voters aren’t yet paying close attention. Republicans can only hope that by convention time their candidate has come up with something better than a repeat of Bob Dole’s campaign against Bill Clinton.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »