Frank Bruni writes about the media’s addiction to polls. For example, the cable news networks breathlessly leading each hour with the results of the latest polls — even those that get it wrong, or completely contradict others — without concern about the effects of simply repeating the results without context:
An obsession with polls and a quickness to weave narratives around them bolster certain candidates and retard others, and could well affect the outcome of this presidential election.
If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination — or, heaven forbid, the White House — it will be partly because we in the media justified saturation coverage of him by pointing to polls, which in turn legitimized his fixation on them as proof that he’s up to the job: He must be, because plenty of people apparently picture him in it….
If Jeb Bush’s candidacy comes to naught, his underwhelming poll numbers — and how they were used to cast him instantly as an underachiever — will have been a factor. And if Clinton fails to win the nomination, the media’s embrace of certain polls among an ever-changing riot of them will have played at least some small role.
“If she’s three points behind in New Hampshire, it’s a close race,” [David] Axelrod said. “But if she’s 27 points behind, her campaign’s in free fall. That’s a sexier story and the one that’s chosen. It becomes the meme. It becomes the prism through which everyone filters their coverage. It skews how people view everything that a candidate does: Is it conviction or desperation?”
Desperation makes a better story. So the media dwells on the most pessimistic projections, ensuring that polling, no matter how divorced from reality, shapes it.