President Trump! How Exactly Did The Pollsters & Media Get It So Wrong?

President Trump! How Exactly Did The Pollsters & Media Get It So Wrong?

It’s the question a lot of the world’s journalists are asking themselves this morning – how did everybody get it so wrong on a Trump win? And US pollsters are quickly being rounded on. In this opinion piece from The New York Times, the paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, argues the problem may well have been that media was too busy telling audiences how to think, when they should have been asking what they were thinking

It was the night that wasn’t supposed to happen, that had almost no chance of happening. Having relied on major media, and the overflow of polls it fed readers on a near-daily basis, the audience sat back and waited for a Democratic victory, possibly a rout. Could the Senate be reclaimed by Democrats, or even the House?

On Tuesday afternoon, The New York Times told readers in its Upshot polling feature that Hillary Clinton had an 84 percent chance of winning. And for many weeks leading up to Election Day, The Times delivered a steady stream of stories. One described Clinton’s powerful and well-organized ground operation — and Trump’s frazzled counterattack. Another claimed a surge in the Latino vote that could decide the election. Others speculated on the composition and tenor of a Clinton cabinet. The picture was of a juggernaut of blue state invincibility that mostly dismissed the likelihood of a Trump White House.

But sometime Tuesday night, that 84-percent Clinton win Upshot figure flipped. Suddenly it was 95 percent — for Donald Trump. And when readers woke up Wednesday, they learned that the second forecast, at least, was on target.

Readers are sending letters of complaint at a rapid rate. Here’s one that summed up the feelings succinctly, from Kathleen Casey of Houston: “Now, that the world has been upended and you are all, to a person, in a state of surprise and shock, you may want to consider whether you should change your focus from telling the reader what and how to think, and instead devote yourselves to finding out what the reader (and nonreaders) actually think.”

Another letter, from Nick Crawford of Plymouth, Mich., made a similar point. “Perhaps the election result would not be such a surprise if your reporting had acknowledged what ordinary Americans care about, rather than pushing the limited agenda of your editors,” he wrote. “Please come down from your New York City skyscraper and join the rest of us.”

Certainly, The Times isn’t the only news organization bewildered and perhaps a bit sheepish about its predictions coverage. The rest of media missed it too, as did the pollsters, the analysts, the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign itself.

But as The Times begins a period of self-reflection, I hope its editors will think hard about the half of America the paper too seldom covers.

The red state America campaign coverage that rang the loudest in news coverage grew out of Trump rallies, and it often amplified the voices of the most hateful. One especially compelling video produced with footage collected over months on the campaign trail, captured the ugly vitriol like few others. That’s important coverage. But it and pieces like it drowned out the kind of agenda-free, deep narratives that could have taken Times readers deeper into the lives and values of the people who just elected the next president.

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