spinning tops

They say there are a few things you shouldn’t speak of in polite company. Religion, sexual encounters, politics…

Yet, we all throw out those best practices quite often as our physical and virtual lives intersect. Our “wall” is more like a bathroom stall and less like a formal dinning room.

It isn’t a bad thing. There is a part of me that believes the taboo nature of such topics has actually made us too insulated in our understanding of the world around us and sometimes social media provides an opportunity to challenge our perceived norms (although, vexingly, there’s also plenty of evidence demonstrating it’s also an echo chamber).

After the GOP grandstanding that took place in the form of “debates” earlier this fall, the greater part of the media came to some form of consensus as to what the effects were. There were some variations in the interpretation but the conclusions remained at least somewhat unified save for the fringes of conspiracy theorists that usually come out of the woodwork to critique anything anyone assumes.

For the most part among the stuff that made it through my social networks the personal sentiments seemed to align at least somewhat to the interpretation of the results happening within the broader media scope. Again, with the caveat that the theorists were out same as they always were.

What became problematic was what I saw happen after the Democratic debate.

For starters, the debate itself, taking the participants out of the picture, seemed to confuse a great many people. Since it didn’t follow the narrative of either of the two previous GOP debates in this cycle, nor that of previous debates in recent election cycles, there was a great deal of disagreement as to what the outcome was.

Was it bad because the ratings weren’t as high or the social media chatter wasn’t as far reaching? Was it good because it wasn’t bogged down in hypoborle, as many half-truths and a-ha gotcha moments which created more meaningful conversations about policy rather than retweeting of talking points? Was it because Anderson Cooper is perceived liberal himself or because he was interjecting rather than simply moderating? The analysis greatly depended on a combination of expectation and perception that ranged quite widely and no one really seemed quite sure. For every praise of the situation it was pretty easy to find a criticism as well.

So, when we get into the analysis of the candidates themselves it becomes even more complex. Again, in contrast, just as the GOP side went in with some clear cut expectations and the debate essentially delivered on them, the candidates performed largely as expected and the usual indicators of success post debate all seemed to point to similar results making the analysis of the outcome fairly mundane. Culling together several versions of what winning meant easily correlated with the coronation of a winner – or at least the perception that most sources agreed the candidates uniformly faired in a particular way.

The overall vibe of the Democratic debate was completely different thus, it is much more difficult to discern an actual result.

Thus, you get competing headlines in which some declare Bernie Sanders the winner while a bevy of other others believed Hillary Clinton won.

In analyzing the debate, what constitutes winning it? Are you using formal debate rules about statements an rebuttals to award points? Is it strength of an individual speakers oration or maybe there’s a value in factuality that is more important? Or are you using share of time or words spoken? Perhaps you are looking at responses to certain points, maybe using social media as a gauge to determine resonance in statements with the electorate? Could it be in meeting or exceeding expectations versus missing them, whatever those expectations were? Perhaps it’s some combination of those, or none of them and something else instead?

No one prints out a score card or rating sheet beforehand and each outlet, ney, each person is likely using some different criteria in which to determine the perception of a winner. It is very easy to have a different result of who won when the definition of “winning” is vastly different from critique to critique.

Actually, I would question the use of the word “win” here. To wit, what is the most important outcome of a debate for a candidate? No, seriously, what is that outcome? Is it really to “win” based on some arbitrary notion of the evening itself or is it something more?

Is it securing money? Does the money come from increases in existing sources or does it come from increasing the source pool to picking up new revenue sources?

Or, is it about support? What type of support – that of among likely voters or that of among groups that represent interests and voter intents like maybe special interest groups, unions or religious organizations?

Is it likelihood to vote a certain way – which can be interpreted as stronger support from their current base or picking up new support from the undecideds or changing voters minds from one to another candidate or even one party to another?

Is it something else or maybe a combination of a number of different things and how in the past there is a strong correlation between those combined successes and the actual electoral outcome? (my guess is this is the most important part)

Having a certain post-debate outcome doesn’t necessarily have to constitute the same thing as having the perception of a winner or loser during the debate itself. If the two can be viewed as mutually exclusive then the real question is which is more important – winning the night or winning some of the outcomes thereafter?

If winning the outcomes thereafter are the most important, similar to the adage of just winning the battle doesn’t mean you’ve won the war, than the weight of a winner in a single debate is highly nullified since the outcomes thereafter are influenced by things other than the debate and its immediate coverage itself.

There’s no correct answer. Again, there may be lose correlatives like the perception of winning the debate increase news coverage which can then be leveraged to increase donations and sponsorships which if achieved can be used to increase exposure through more events or political advertisements which then could affect sentiment by strenghting existing support and/or gaining new support which could affect perceptions going into the next debate which could influence how the results of the next debate are interpreted which could then start the cycle all over again…

Actually, pollsters for years have found very little correlation between debate results, intent to vote responses to events (like debates) and actual voting results which really speaks volumes to how imprecise the process of critiquing debates really is. Furthermore, there’s plenty of evidence that political sparring this far from an election has little correlation on the actual voting results.

It’s all political theater. It is more about the psychological manipulation of allowing voters to believe they are making an informed choice. The reality is most voters are still going to believe what they believe and vote how they are going to vote regardless of the outcome of a single event, or even the culmination of many events, within any given election cycle. In actuality, the argument might be, the real result isn’t moving voters beliefs but rather substantiating those already strong supporter’s existing beliefs (again, with that echo chamber effect).

So, the idea of winning a debate or having momentum is about maximizing as a candidate the existing base and thus, there is great emphasis on spinning the perceptions of win, or loss, into then maximizing the broader outcomes.

For example, the more Hillary Clinton looks like she won the more validated her big donors feel about their donations and are willing to continue to contribute at a high level. While, alternatively, the more Bernie Sander’s supporters feel like he’s the underdog the more willing they are to continue to contribute to him at a high level.

The press is not unaware of these narratives. As a matter of fact, they are trained to fully exploit them. After all, the media isn’t some philontrapic entity, it is a product of capitalism. The more grabbing a headline to the target the more leverage there is into acquiring revenues – in advertisements, in subscriptions, in the reselling of consumer data acquired, etc. There is very good reason many of the spinsters put their spin on the headlines – they know it will generate specific responses.

Take, for example, the traditionalist approach to a headline that reads, “Poll respondents say Bernie Sanders debate performance appealed to them.” It is mostly unbiased and pretty straight forward. It won’t generate many people actually reading the story so the media wouldn’t use it since it won’t create revenue – and even if readers did click through it might not be a strong enough headline that advertisers would actually want their ads as part of the consumption cycle. Finally, it does nothing to support the larger outcomes which is all about the political spin that can be used, the kind of political spin that creates more readers who want to click on future stories that will drive ad views that will attract certain advertisers.

Now, take for example, “Did Bernie Sanders win the debates?” or “Did Hillary Clinton win the debate?” It is vague which inspires you to tune in or click through. It plants a subtle seed of doubt about the candidate’s relative performance, one which will influence how you will then interpret the information in the article. This type of self-biased approach tends to produce more inspired reading or viewing which creates an increased opportunity for more ads to be shown and more data to be collected and more revenue to be made. It is no coincidence that campaign spinsters also love this stuff because they can wax poetic about the interpretations in the media in order to drive more donations and more enlivened support.

So, when you’re looking at the headlines it isn’t about the liberal media necessarily trying to stifle a conservative agenda or the entrenched mainstream trying to undermine an underdog as much as it is good business to speak directly at the strengths and insecurities of any given target market.

Fox news, for example, is fantastic at crafting headlines, subsequently underlying content, that speak directly to the insecurities of their readers. These are designed to drive ratings which drives ad revenue because more eyeballs means more money. Sarah Palin, for example, was fantastic at using media headlines from all sides of the political spectrum in order to influence specific outcomes, especially in fund raising.

Sadly, while the right is notorious for this exploitation the left is by no means exempt from its influence. That’s because this isn’t a right-or-left thing as much as it is an inherent to capitalism’s ability to exploit human nature type of thing.

Getting back to the most recent Democratic debate the headlines themselves were fairly spit at calling a winner with some predictable outcomes where a traditionalist outlet would call it for Hillary on a traditionalist’s criteria while some more partisan and some of the new school outlets were calling it for Sanders on there criteria and even a few wonks called it for Trump – because, Trump. Each source was using a different set of criteria to determine a winner, interpreting the debate inputs and then attempting to “score” the expectation versus the perceived reality candidate by candidate. Simply exceeding expectation could produce a positive outcome if the expectation were indeed set low enough in the first place. It is all a very subjective process, one in which the politicos of the media community are all to well versed in. They perceive the world through a much different lens than the average viewer. That doesn’t make them any more correct or incorrect in their interpretation of the events but it does mean they are looking at it with a completely different set of objectives than a view might be.

So, when you read about how Hillary won or Bernie Won, it very well could be that on the criteria put forth biases that interpretation one way or another. Again, the reason why it was more clear cut with the GOP is because the criteria is much better aligned as to what an expected winner should provide and certain candidates clearly achieved those results.

For a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters there was already a perceived media bias against him and a belief that the mainstream media was treating him like a third party candidate a la Ross Perot or Ron Paul type of status. So, when in their estimation Sanders was able to transcend the socialist label during the debates on a truly national stage the fact he wasn’t declared the winner irked quite a few people. Can’t really say I blame them for their thoughts, personally, it was one helluva performance he put on. But again, in the context of the entire Democratic debate, everything was so far out of the realm of normal political discourse it was as if one was peering into the looking glass.

Thus, when CNN presented viewers with a poll to allow them to voice their opinions the results came back contrary to what the political scientists and pundents interpreted the debate as.

This isn’t surprising really for a number of reasons.

First, is CNN created a self-opt-in poll as I understand it. It is not designed to be a representative sample of viewers or of the electorate. Rather, it is biased to those who self-select to be polled. I will be honest, because of this, I neither took the results very serious or put very much effort into looking into the poll’s attributes. In writing this I’m just pointing out my skepticism to any such online poll like this based on the large amounts of research I’ve read about previous polls that seem similarly constructed. Unlike traditional polling which tries to establish a qualified sample, most of the voluntary polls have easily discreditable samples so they cannot be the sole way of viewing the actual outcome.

Knowing what is already known about Bernie Sanders supporters propensity to respond to online calls to action and their strong outward affinity one can reasonably assume they would self-select to be polled at a greater rate than the average viewer. Thus, they would pollute the population and artificially skew to Sanders because his followers would be most likely to volunteer to share their opinion over an undecided viewer, a GOP viewer or a supporter of a different candidate. Sure, this is an assumption about the population and doesn’t necessarily rest in fact, but since the actual population criteria wasn’t where I could reasonably discover it, this is more than a reasonable approach considering the evidence in previous survey analysis.

Furthermore, it wasn’t just the CNN poll that seemed to come to this result. However, in scanning some of the other corroborating survey results they construction of the survey population seems similar, meaning they all may have the same population bias problem. Since the debate, a few more surveys were released, though, none yet from the big political polling systems like Quinnepeac. The results are not as stark, but that’s also because they likely lack much of the population bias of those initial samples.

Beyond population bias there is also the question of survey bias itself. Questions can be leading, loaded and intentionally vague which will then skew the results. The word “win” for example is overly broad and lacks objective context from respondent to respondent. Without having a defined description of what a winning “outcome” is how can you possibly declare a winner. Most people responding to any poll, regardless of how well built the population of the poll is, are going to have greatly different perceptions of what it means to “win” if there’s not better qualifiers on what winning means.

Again, I haven’t seen the poll questions themselves for some of the other DNC and individual candidates post-polling but if it is too generic what you gets is variations such as if they “agree” with more of the remarks as a sentiment of opinion, versus someone else who looks more rationally at what the candidate actually said and how realistic proposals were and accurate facts were very objectively, while a third group might view winning as having the most carisma and “feels” trustworthy or sincere in a more subjective way. Since “winning” is so “vague” in these polls you get vague results.

I’m not saying Sanders didn’t “win” the debate. I am however questioning the method in which one would proclaim it, since the controversy is primarily lead by a subset of supporters.

In actually Media Matters did short work of the mentions of both in positive and negative light after the debates and came up fairly even with the results. While there was some media bias to Hillary receiving greater favorable coverage it wasn’t disproportionate enough to truly undermine Sander’s own positive coverage. Ney, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and even one New York Times writer actually produced pro-Sanders coverage in the immediate news cycle picking him as the “winner” while outlets like Christian Science Monitor, Salon, Politico and others followed up in the next-day analysis with positive views of the outcome for Sanders while also producing some skeptical criticism of some of the pro-Hillary initial support.

Since the analysis cycle is much longer than the actual news cycle, there will be continued debate about the outcome of the debates and the misnomer of debate winner will continue to play a part in the headlines.

More polls will occur and they will gauge not only the reaction to the initial debate but the reaction to the subsequent actions of the candidates as well as the overall coverage and may come to different conclusions. Again, political campaigns are not about single battles but the entirety of the process leading to the election results.

Furthermore, remember, polling has flaws when done and those are especially noteworthy in the microcasm of a single event such as the first debate to occur in an election cycle that goes on for more than a year. However one choses to interpret the polling results from the debate chances are that it will have very little correlation to the final results of the election. It may provide a sphere of influence bump along the way but even that should be critically reviewed within the greater context of the election cycle.

The reality is the reason why these polls aren’t getting top of the page attention is because they really aren’t top of the page information or are they really strong producers of revenue for the media sources covering them.

I’d also be skeptical of either candidate taking these unscientific polls or their own internal polls too seriously, not just now but over the course of the next part of the cycle. Just look at how inaccurate the RNC and subsequently Romney’s team polling was on the GOP in the last presidential cycle. While some independent organizations polls are indeed very strong correlative indicators even independent analysis has demonstrated flaws and I’m not even talking about the Dewey beats Taft fiasco.

The reality is by having the poll results, no matter how poorly contrived they might be, there is a segment of Sanders supporters who will howl about the dissemination of information. It is a page straight out of the GOP anti-mainstream media handbook that Sarah Palin previously ran to a T to rally the base but failed to translate to anything useful among the broader electorate and eventually became a heavy discredit to her and the party. It is understandable for the underdog to want to play the underdog card, but one has to be careful how it is perceived by undecideds, by independents, by on-the-fence Clinton supporters who might be swayed.

Furthermore, the anti-media approach also plays well with the anti-establishment rhetoric from both sides of the spectrum and the notion of the populist vote seeking out an out-of-beltway choice. Should Sanders really be positioned in a way that aligns him to the same sentiments that Trump, Carson and Fiorina are playing with as a differentiator to that of supposedly Beltway Insider Clinton. It again may rally a portion of the Sanders anti-establishment base the political reality is he by means of being a lefting liberal socialist who actually can function within the system and independents, moderates and on-the-fence supporters will more likely be turned more off by the hypoborle written around Bernie being an outsider who isn’t getting his due.

Obviously there is still a very long way to go and the political hucksters have a lot of spin to cast in the coming months. The coverage of one poll about one debate is hardly anything to get upset about when the New York Times, a harshly critical yet staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton, has run no fewer than five articles with Sanders name in the headline speaking about everything from a positive review of his debate performance to him being the new target of Donald Trump to his fundraising event and the bump in money that’s come since the debate as well as one critical of why he won’t win (hint, it isn’t because of Hillary, it’s because of the perception he cannot appeal outside of his current base to moderates and independents). That’s in comparison to eleven articles that had Hillary’s name in the headline in the same time frame which included one on Bengazi and the email scandal, three in praise of her performance, one critical of it, a few about the debate in general and a few more about her actions since the debate. All things being equal, if you pull out the Bengazi and the general debate articles it’s actually pretty equal coverage – especially when you consider Trump has a number of headlines to himself and he wasn’t even part of the debate (if anything Trump/GOP, not Hillary, are getting the disproportionate coverage from the media overall). A flip on over to WaPo find the same type of analysis and this will continue as there insanity of the analysis cycle is to analyze the analysis so to speak.

And, finally, do you really want to go down the rabbit hole of in-beltway versus out-beltway, because, the reality is the combination of Trump-Carson is WAY more out-beltway than Sanders will ever be (both in experience and in support) and with that one HAS to question the logic of using the “out-beltway” argument considering the crazy those two represent (both in supporters and in their own policy)

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About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny: https://thedmouse.wordpress.com/about-thedmouse/
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