The show's about to start, it will blow your head apart!
Earlier this week I was doing a television interview about our poll showing Republican Mia Love with a 9-point lead over Democrat Doug Owens.
The interviewer kept asking me why I thought the race was so close. Over and over again I tried to explain that, no, a 9-point gap with three weeks to go is not close. But he persisted with his line of questioning.
If we had 3 months to go instead of 3 weeks, 9 points would be quite remarkable indeed - hinting at a possible close race in the closing months. But, a 9 percentage point gap with 21 days to go is the same as a 9-point lead in football late in 4th quarter. You need to score a touchdown and then recover an onside kick in order to even have a chance at winning. Not impossible, but not a common occurance either.
We conducted a similar poll in August, which found Love had a 12-point lead over Owens. So, it would be safe to say that Owens had gained about 3 points on Love in the span of 10 weeks. It’s not hard to do the math on this one. If things continued at the same pace, which they don’t, Owens could possibly pull even with Love in another 30 weeks.
The only thing that might change the dynamic of this race is an “October surprise” that is incredibly damaging to Love. The chances of that happening are extremely remote.
So, all Love really has to do is play her game and run out the clock.
But the line of questioning by that TV reporter stayed with me for a while after the interview. Why did he insist on characterizing the race as “close” when it is anything but?
Later that night it hit me - our media is desperate for a close major political race. So desperate, in fact, that we will latch on to anything that even gives off a whiff of a competitive race.
We in Utah are no strangers to covering close races, but most of those involved Jim Matheson and his successful attempts to beat back Republican efforts to oust him from Congress.
Matheson is gone, and we’ve got nothing to keep our interest this time around. The AG’s race is a snoozer, even though a super sexy scandal drove the former AG from office. That alone should generate a little bit of interest, but there’s been nary a mention of John Swallow or Mark Shurtleff during campaign 2014. It’s like we’re so embarassed by the behavior that resulted in this year’s election that we are hoping it slides by into obscurity.
I get it. Close races are fun - for both reporters and voters. They inflame passions and fuel arguments. But you can’t manufacture a close race out of thin air.
With the advent of SB 54 and the whole secondary path to the ballot, our political races are bound to get more interesting. Unfortunately, most of the competitive contests will be on the Republican side in primary elections. It’s not ideal, but it’s a start.
There’s one other thing at work here. The media needs political races to be close. When it’s close, it’s more interesting. When it’s more interesting, more people pay attention. So, if we can make a race seem close, then we can get your attention. That’s how the media makes money.
Remember in 2012 when Mitt Romney “won” the first debate against Barack Obama. TV pundits went crazy talking about how that was a “game changer” and Romney had turned around his fortunes against Obama. That was a lie. Romney was not going to beat Obama - and everybody knew it. But Fox News and CNN and MSNBC couldn’t say that because it meant people would stop paying attention.
When you boil it down, the political media is nothing more than a carnival barker hoping you will stick your head inside the tent to see what all the commotion is about.
Step right up! The 2014 election is right this way! You will not believe your eyes!
Just don’t look too closely...