Politics & Media
Oct 22, 2012, 09:49AM

NPR Is Useless on the Election

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Long before you were born, people had to turn for election coverage to something called "the mainstream media," which relied on "pundits" whose main qualification was a unique combination of "ignorance" and "bluster."

If you want a sense of those halcyon days, you had only to tune into Monday's Morning Edition on NPR. Announcer David Greene talked to analyst/ignorant blusterer Cokie Roberts, humbly asking her to help him make sense of the oh-so-confusing state of the presidential election. Roberts pointed to the recent Gallup poll putting Romney six points ahead, but noted that it was an outlier, and suggested that, in fact, the race is in a "dead heat"—as it has been, she said "from the beginning." She concluded from this that Monday night's debate would be very important, and then went on to speculate excitedly about the possibility of an electoral college/popular vote split, which, she said, may favor Obama.

Unfortunately, virtually all of that is either wrong or misleading. In fact, the race has not been in a "dead heat" from the beginning. On the contrary, Obama has held a small lead for basically the entirety of the campaign. There has been some up and down movement, certainly, but even after his strong first debate performance, Romney has remained slightly behind in the majority of polls. In Nate Silver's aggregate polling model, Obama continues to have about a 66-33 percent lead. Similarly, Sam Wang gives Obama a slight Electoral College lead. The Huffington Post poll model puts Romney very, very slightly ahead, but it also shows that Obama has been winning for most of the race. I trust experts like Silver and Wang more than HuffPo… but even if Roberts trusts HuffPo, there's simply no excuse for saying that the race has always been tied. It hasn't, and a five-minute Internet search can tell you it hasn't. What possible excuse, then, can Roberts have for saying it has?

Similarly, there's no real reason to think that Monday's debate will be especially important. Third debates rarely move the polls much, and Obama's solid win in the last debate didn't cause much shift. Certainly, the debate could matter if one or the other participants says something especially stupid, and/or exposes themselves on camera, or if something else odd happens.

As for the Electoral College/popular vote split, that's something that pundits love to contemplate, because it makes election night exciting and promises conflict and controversy. Whether it'll actually happen is another story. Silver has the chances quite low, though Gallup's President Frank Newport seems to think it's likely. I think Silver is more reliable than Newport, but either way, it’s better to point out that this is a possible scenario, rather than presenting it as something to worry about.

  • I'm eager to see if Nate Silver's model will pan out again. It's really starting to look like Romney could pull a surprise win, just by the lack of enthusiasm from O voters. Not nearly as many kids, blacks, or women seem to willing to get out these days. Who knows. Politics is so liquid and ephemeral these days that it's impossible to make a good call even two weeks out.

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  • I like NPR a lot, aside from the political coverage. But I think you rely far too much on Nate Silver, who, after all, draws his paycheck from the New York Times. I find Silver's work thorough, but he's clearly an Obama partisan.

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  • He makes no secret of his Obama position. Thing is, his numbers are based on mathimatical analysis, not his opinions.

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  • Right; Silver and Wang are both Obama voters I'm pretty sure. But they're also both using statistical modelling. They could be wrong, but not because of partisan bias.//Eureka, I don't think there's any reason to think that Obama's voters are especially unenthusiastic. There are many more Obama voters voting early, for example.

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  • Oh...and it seems prohibitively likely that Cokie Roberts is an Obama voter as well, for whatever that's worth.

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  • Noah, you ought to read Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard just to escape the Cult of Silver. Also, I think it's very hard to tell who's voting in the early ballots. If, as reported, it's bigger Dem, that could just be O's base.

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