CBS features voter opinions, doesn’t represent reality
CBS stood out last week by focusing heavily on individual voter opinions in battleground states.
In its series “Closing Arguments” on Oct. 31, CBS featured voters in Pennsylvania, where Hillary Clinton was up 48 to 40, according to a CBS News Tracker poll. The segment showed three coal miners voicing support for Donald Trump, and two Republicans who were weary of Trump but would likely vote for him.
So the segment showed five potential voters leaning toward Trump, although the poll showed Clinton leading.
On Nov. 1, CBS spoke to members of a Baptist church in Ohio who hoped African Americans would go out and vote (which CBS’s Scott Pelley said could “tip the balance” in favor of Clinton). The network spoke to voters supporting Clinton and Trump in Hamilton County, Ohio.
The series also featured small business owners in Ohio (one for Trump and one for Clinton), retirees in Florida (who are deeply divided) and millennials.
While the two retirees argued strongly for their candidates, they were not representative of Florida. Also, CBS showed Clinton had a 28-point lead among millennials in a Harvard Institute of Politics poll, but the segment showed potential voters with a variety of fierce opinions – hardly representative of the population.
Some may argue the segments distorted reality.
Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post, said while CBS doesn’t have to follow polls exactly, she faults the network for not being more representative.
“I think [CBS] needs to be careful to be representative of what’s going on in those areas,” Sullivan said, “or it could give [viewers] a warped idea.”
But Carol Marin, political editor for NBC in Chicago, said while polls have value, it’s okay that CBS didn’t follow them in the “Closing Arguments” series.
“I’m never going to swear by these polls,” said Marin. “I don’t believe in corkscrewing the story I do to follow these numbers. I’m fine with [CBS] putting [the polls and the interview segments] side by side.”
Everyone featured in the segments explained their decisions, including economic considerations (such as tax policy, job security and minimum wage), concerns for social policy (such as race and gender relations), and the candidate’s trustworthiness, sense of character and decorum.
But these segments do not correspond to poll data. They offer some reasons for certain individuals’ decisions, but is that more valuable than covering the candidates and the race overall?
Is CBS’s heavy coverage of individual opinions a good use of limited broadcast time?
Sullivan said although CBS could have used more representative samples, hearing from individuals was “powerful.”
“Hearing from real people is good,” said Sullivan. “It helps you understand what motivates people and what they’re thinking.”
Marin also said it’s good to have diversity in broadcasts, and showing individual opinions helps people understand each other.
“We all live in our own bubbles,” she said. “[CBS is] trying to sample the voices of some sections of the country. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Marin said networks must make their own calculations to find balance in their newscasts and keep viewers interested.
“You’re trying to construct a newscast that has real meaning and high-value content,” she said. “At the same time, you don’t just want a dry disquisition.”