The Sunday before the elections, readers of the New York Times and the Washington Post got the strong message that the election was a “tossup”.   This was explicit in the case of the Post, which listed Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida and Ohio as tossup states.  Meanwhile in the New York Times, Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog was absent from the Sunday edition, which led with an “equally tight” theme for the Presidential race (“competitive states that right to the end are producing equal shares of hope and fear among conflicting signals about the outcome.”)

If you go online to FiveThirtyEight, the most detailed and authoritative analysis of election polling, you would have to ask what equal “shares of hope and fear” are they talking about? Of the argument the election is “too close to call,” Silver says:  “It isn’t. If the state polls are right, then Mr. Obama will win the Electoral College. If you can’t acknowledge that after a day when Mr. Obama leads 19 out of 20 swing-state polls, then you should abandon the pretense that your goal is to inform rather than entertain the public.”

Of the Post’s seven “tossup” states, Silver lists only one – Florida – as a “tossup”.  In addition, Silver has Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin as not just “leaning” Obama, but  as “likely” Obama (i.e. 80-90%).  Silver gives Obama an 85.1% of winning the Electoral vote.

The Post rather gives away its game with a chart where Obama needs from the “tossup” column only Ohio plus either Wisconsin or Colorado (or Ohio plus “likelies” Iowa and NH). The Post ignored its own giveaway sentence – buried in the text on ‘tossup” Ohio – that “virtually every public poll in the last 10 days shows Obama with an advantage.” But then, the Post needs its “tossup” states to make its story “entertainment”.

Is there a reason why the Post and the Times took this “dead heat” approach? Suspense  sells, but is it also that an entrenched “balanced reporting” imperative  trumps any objective analysis, just when objective reporting counts the most? (Note: to see what objective analysis means go to http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/03/nov-2-for-romney-to-win-state-polls-must-be-statistically-biased/#more-37099).

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