Is ABC Ignoring the Big Picture?
The final stretch of a presidential race can be chaotic, as last-minute polls can change how people view the election. ABC, NBC and CBS have to cover those polls carefully to avoid the false impression that the race has shifted dramatically just days before Election Day.
In its Oct. 26 broadcast ABC appeared to do just that with a poll showing Donald Trump taking a slim lead in Florida — a crucial swing-state.
Discussing the poll, David Muir stressed the “razor thin margin” in the state. The lower-third in the next package read, “Critical battle for Florida intensifies.” He then mentioned a new Fox News poll showing Clinton up by three points nationally, and an Associated Press poll showing Clinton up by 14 points. Muir went on to say that there’s a lot of “volatility” left in the race.
Muir did not include other national polls or other swing state polls — apart from the contradicting figures from Fox and the AP.
While Florida is undeniably important in presidential elections, Trump would still have to win several other swing states to have a chance on Election Day — most of which are in Clinton’s corner right now.
Unlike ABC, CBS discussed the RealClear Politics polling average, which relies on several recent, reliable polls. CBS discussed Trump’s lead in Florida, but also mentioned that Clinton is expanding her lead nationally. Similarly, NBC discussed polling numbers in New Hampshire, Utah, and Nevada.
ABC’s focus on the Florida poll could give the impression that it is making a lot out of one poll and ignoring the big picture. Poynter’s Jim Warren feels this has been a common mistake for the news media.
“That mistake has been made by many media outlets throughout the entire campaign year, beginning with the primaries in both parties,” Warren said. “The quest for ‘news’ leads people to often made too much out of too little.”
One way for networks to avoid excessive coverage of individual polls is to use polling averages, as CBS did on Oct. 26 with RealClear Politics. Warren says this might be a good solution, so long as networks cover the methodology of the poll as well as the poll itself.
“Too often, in the quest for alleged ‘news,’ the media focuses on many polls without scrutinizing the methodology, Warren said. “Even a sophisticated consumer of political news is left at sea.”