Why these election poll numbers might actually matter this time

Your Friday Poynter Report

July 17, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Joe Biden leading Donald Trump 52% to 40% in battleground states. The poll also shows that 50% say there is “no chance” that they will vote for Trump in November (37% said the same about Biden).

Already, I can feel you breaking into a cold sweat as I bring up poll numbers. We’ve seen this movie before, right? We’ve seen horse race journalism fall flat on its face.

For starters, it’s only July, still four months before the election. A lot can happen in four months. After all, think back to what life was like four months ago. That’s before we saw the depths of the coronavirus and well before the killing of George Floyd. Four months ago? That seems like another life and world now.

And, when it comes to polls, we all remember 2016, when polling showed there was no way Trump was going to beat Hillary Clinton.

But another number in this polling is striking and should be taken seriously, especially by the president: 72% said the country is “on the wrong track.”

Three-fourths of the country thinks the country is in bad shape and heading in the wrong direction. That’s based on now, today, not what might happen four months from now.

“That number explains every other number in the poll,” “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd said on MSNBC on Thursday. Todd added, “People are screaming for a course correction on how he’s handling this virus.”

Todd also said that polling showed Americans, by a two-and-a-half-to-one ratio, want politicians to focus on handling the virus compared to fixing the economy.

“This poll screams at the president: Do something different; you’re losing on this virus,” Todd said. “Please change course. And it’s obviously right now a message the president is not listening to.”

As far as the election polling in battleground states, as well as polls that show Trump down by double digits nationally, Todd pointed to Trump’s poor numbers when it comes to race. Yet Trump continues to double-down and make his race problems worse.

He asked if Black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace apologized for the noose incident discovered by others, something that Trump called a “hoax.” He has defended Confederate monuments, telling Fox News, “You don’t want to take away our heritage and history and the beauty, in many cases, the beauty, the artistic beauty.”

He has been critical of Black Lives Matter. And just this week, when asked by CBS News why Black people keep dying at the hands of police, Trump called it a terrible question and then talked about white people dying at the hands of police.

Todd speculated that if Biden was asked what he would want Trump to do for Biden to maintain his dominating polling numbers over the president, Biden would want the president to simply keep doing what he’s doing.

Talking about polling numbers in terms of race, where Trump has only a 33% approval rating, Todd said, “You want to know what the bottom is, what the floor is for the president? There’s your floor. … This is a five-alarm fire.”

Layoffs at Vox

Vox Media — which owns media sites such as New York Magazine, The Verge, Eater and SB Nation — laid off 72 employees Thursday. Vox had implemented furloughs for 100 employees in an attempt to offset the steep decline in advertising revenue caused, in part, by the coronavirus. But the furloughs weren’t enough.

In a memo to employees obtained by CNN’s Kerry Flynn, Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff said, “Our hope in May was that business would bounce back in the months that followed. As we discussed in last week’s all-hands, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the second half of the year will not rebound anywhere near our pre-COVID forecasts. Furthermore, as cases rise tragically across the country and many of our elected leaders avoid decisive action, we have very limited visibility into the timing or strength of a recovery.”

NPR’s ratings plunge

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

The pandemic has been rough on a lot of media outlets. Include NPR among those hit hard. NPR’s David Folkenflik reports that nearly all of NPR’s radio shows saw big ratings drops — roughly a fourth of their audience in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 2019.

Folkenflik wrote that those who listened to NPR from home before the pandemic still do, for the most part. But those who typically listened on their commutes are not listening if they are now staying home to work. Lori Kaplan, NPR’s senior director of audience insights, told Folkenflik, “We anticipated these changes. This kind of change was going to take place over the next decade. But the pandemic has shown us what our future is now.”

Folkenflik wrote, “Commercial radio is experiencing, if anything, worse declines. But audience research commissioned by Kaplan indicates that NPR’s audience is disproportionately made up of professionals who are able to work from home and who are interested in doing so even after the pandemic subsides.”

A little too late

Earlier this week, the USA Today opinion section ran an op-ed by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that, essentially, trashed Dr. Anthony Fauci. Navarro wrote that Fauci “has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

The op-ed is still up on USA Today’s site, but now there’s a lengthy topper that pushes back on what Navarro wrote. USA Today wrote that several of Navarro’s criticisms “were misleading or lacked context.”

It would have been nice if USA Today had figured that out before running Navarro’s piece — and then not run it at all, at least in that form.

Here’s the full USA Today statement written by Bill Sternberg, USA Today’s editorial page editor:

Tuesday evening online and Wednesday morning in print, the Editorial Board published an Our View editorial that praised Dr. Anthony Fauci as a “national treasure” and sharply criticized recent White House efforts to undermine or sideline him.

As is our longstanding tradition, to give our readers another point of view, we reached out to White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has been critical of Fauci. Navarro provided a response that was published as an Opposing View paired with our editorial. We dealt directly with Navarro and do not know whether he spoke to anyone else at the White House about his statement.

Navarro’s response echoed comments made to other news outlets in recent days. We felt it was newsworthy because it expanded on those comments, put an on-the-record name to the attacks on Fauci, and contradicted White House denials of an anti-Fauci campaign.

However, several of Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci — on the China travel restrictions, the risk from the coronavirus and falling mortality rates — were misleading or lacked context. As such, Navarro’s op-ed did not meet USA Today’s fact-checking standards.

McClatchy mini-update

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

Since McClatchy announced Sunday morning that hedge fund creditor Chatham Asset Management had submitted the winning bid to buy the company, not much has happened. Two small developments in the company’s long-running federal bankruptcy case, courtesy the court docket and McClatchy’s financial spokesperson: A hearing Tuesday on unsecured creditors’ claims against Chatham and McClatchy was postponed until late August. That raises the possibility that the deal will get court approval with the issue still pending. McClatchy and Chatham have also asked for a few more days to iron out some details of the deal, but they still expect to be ready to present a final version to the judge, as scheduled, next Friday. None of this looks likely to blow up the agreement, but as they say in sports circles, it ain’t over til it’s over.

The Post’s big story

Washington NFL owner Dan Snyder, whose team is being accused of having a culture of sexual harassment and verbal abuse in a story by The Washington Post. Snyder was not accused of harassment. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

As I teased in yesterday’s newsletter, The Washington Post dropped a bombshell report Thursday: More than a dozen women allege they were subjected to sexual harassment and verbal abuse by a number of male front office members of the Washington NFL team.

Post reporters Will Hobson and Liz Clarke interviewed more than 40 current and former employees and reviewed text messages to detail allegations of harassment from 2006 to 2019. Most of the incidents being alleged occurred while Daniel Snyder has owned the team, although Snyder is not accused of harassing or verbally abusing anyone. Questions, however, are being asked about whether Snyder knew what was going on. Hobson and Clarke wrote, “No woman accused Snyder or former longtime team president Bruce Allen of inappropriate behavior with women, but they expressed skepticism the men were unaware of the behavior they allege.”

The Post noted that three team employees accused of improper behavior have suddenly left the team, including longtime radio play-by-play announcer Larry Michael and the team’s director of pro personnel Alex Santos.

Read the story to fully appreciate just how disgusting the workplace environment was at the organization. New York Daily News columnist Jane McManus tweeted, “Between exploiting cheerleaders, refusing to stop dishonoring Native Americans well past the due date and a culture of harassment as detailed today by @washingtonpost… that’s officially three strikes in football.”

Covering sports

Professional team sports are close to returning in the United States. Major League Baseball is scheduled to start next week. The NBA is already in the bubble in Orlando as they prepare for a July 30 restart. NHL teams are back practicing with plans to start playing Aug. 1. And the NFL hopes to play as normal come fall.

We’ll see if all this actually gets pulled off, but one of the interesting questions is what will it be like for the media that typically covers these sports?

On his “Sports Day Tampa Bay” podcast, my former Tampa Bay Times colleague and radio partner Rick Stroud, who has covered the NFL since the 1990s, has wondered aloud if reporters will ever step back into locker rooms again. Interviews at players’ lockers have been replaced by Zoom calls, and that change could become permanent even after we go back to so-called normal. And, another immediate question: Will news outlets travel with the teams they cover if journalists don’t actually have face-to-face contact with athletes? The answer likely will vary by the outlet.

Meanwhile, many sportswriters are now struggling with wanting sports to come back in order to preserve their livelihoods, while being wary of sports returning because of health concerns. That’s one of the topics Bryan Curtis covers in his story for The Ringer titled “Sports Are Coming Back. Is Sports Media Coming Back With It?”

Curtis writes, “What the pandemic has revealed is that sportswriters have a codependency with their beat that’s pretty unique.”

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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