Networks Hint Hillary Clinton Will Win Election

When does discussing polls turn away voters?

For two weeks, CBS’s Scott Pelley has said no candidate has recovered from being so far behind in polls this close to the election as Donald Trump.

On Oct. 18, the day before the final presidential debate, NBC’s political director, Chuck Todd, said he thought only an “unknown” issue or incident could change trajectory in the race. Todd said things are appearing to “set into concrete.”

NBC showed Trump trailing by nine points in a Bloomberg Politics poll on Oct. 19 before the debate.

NBC News

NBC News

That day CBS Trump’s support falling in polls with each debate:

CBS News

CBS News

Pelley said at that point, the race was “not even competitive,” and he told CBS’s Major Garrett that Trump had “essentially nothing to lose” in the third debate.

Major Garrett said it would be “extremely difficult” and “almost unprecedented” for Trump to rebound so late in his campaign.

Before the Oct. 19 debate ABC showed Hillary Clinton was ahead in nearly all the battleground states:

ABC News

ABC News

ABC’s Jonathan Karl said “stakes couldn’t be higher” for Trump.

“If [Trump] doesn’t turn things around,” said Karl before the final debate, “he is on the verge of not just losing, but losing big.”

The networks cited polls. But polls are historically unreliable, as former Los Angeles Times reporter Maggie Farley noted.

“In 2004, the Drudge Report leaked that John Kerry was ahead in exit polls,” Farley wrote in an email. “U.S. stocks dropped after the report, voter turnout decreased, and Kerry lost the election, suggesting that exit polls are at the least, unreliable, and at the worst, influential.”

And although Clinton is ahead in opinion polls, low Democratic voter turnout is one reason she could still lose the race.

Opinion polls show many voters support Clinton simply to stop Trump, according to Reuters. Many voters need to feel motivated to turn out. If polls make them complacent, they may not vote, elections expert Michael McDonald told Reuters.

Can broadcasts depress turnout if voters feel certain Clinton will win? If so, how should networks report polls?

Farley said reporting on polls could discourage voting on both sides.

“Reporting that Clinton is well ahead, for example, may cause some Clinton supporters to stay home, and incite Trump supporters to make the extra effort to vote,” wrote Farley. “Or it could dampen the Trump vote if those voters decide it is a lost cause.”

But Candy Crowley, former CNN chief political correspondent, said journalists should report polls accurately either way.

“The polls are what the polls are,” Crowley wrote in an email. “Journalism requires they be reported with both accuracy and context (generally including  ‘these numbers are a snapshot in time, representing what the outcome would likely be IF the election were held today’). To try to shape how voters respond to polls is, to me, outside the bounds of journalism.”



More from Maggie Farley:

  • Columnist Peggy Noonan recently wrote about how difficult this election is to gauge because many potential Trump voters are reticent or secretive about their planned vote, because they don’t want to be judged or keep changing their minds. This makes polls even more fluid and inaccurate.“A high elected official, a Republican, got a faraway look when I asked what he thought was going to happen. ‘This is the unpollable election,’ he said. ‘People don’t want to tell you who they’re for. A lot aren’t sure. A lot don’t want to be pressed.’” (
  • To lessen the influence of polls on potential voters on election day, the major networks have agreed not to  project or characterize a race until after voting is finished in that state.  The speed and prevalence of social media, however, makes this protocol harder to protect each year. In the 2012 election, news staff were not given exit poll information until 5 pm.


More from Candy Crowley:

  • Voters are swayed by polls, particularly  in the final weeks of an election season but it is unclear even to people who study this stuff exactly who is swayed  (undecideds? “soft voters” infrequent voters? all of the above?) , how they are swayed (to vote with the majority? not to bother voting?) and whether enough voters are swayed by polls in any given election to change the outcome (doubtful).
  • I have no idea what a conscious effort to avoid any impact of polling would even look like other than to not report it , which I wouldn’t support.


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