The Right's Jennifer Rubin Problem: A Case Study in Info Disadvantage

Examples are the best way to show you what I mean.

"There are two starkly different views of the race. President Obama's team takes refuge in public state polling and declares it can pull out a close electoral vote win. Mitt Romney's team looks at voter intensity, early voting and Romney's lead among independents and concludes he will win," Rubin wrote at the beginning of a November 1 item. She proceeded to run through all evidence that favored the "Romney view," said nothing about evidence for the "Obama view," and concluded, "there is considerable evidence from both polling of and actual early voting that the political landscape portrayed in a number of state polls showing an Obama lead in swing states doesn't exist. If that improvement in early voting holds up, Democrats should wonder if those state polls in which they have been investing so much hope are even in the 2012 election ballpark." In fact, there was little reason to wonder if they were in the ballpark.

The same day, writing about Iowa, a state that Obama won 52 to 46.5, Rubin literally copied and pasted a Romney campaign memo with a series of explanations for why they were winning the state. "Perhaps Democrats have other figures, and Election Day turnout is still a question mark," she says, "but these data make for a compelling case." The supposedly compelling case included the argument that "the Obama campaign is panicking, and you can see it in the way they are turning out their most reliable, most likely voters long before Election Day. They are using their highest propensity voters to pad their absentee and early vote numbers." It's a neat trick. If Democratic turnout is low during early voting, Rubin cites it as evidence that Republicans are going to win the state, polls be damned, whereas when Democratic early voting turnout is high, it's evidence that they are panicking and are going to lose the election.

Journalists striving to inform don't employ this sort of double-standard.   

On October 31, Rubin wrote, "The media has focused, not surprisingly, on the traditional bellwether state of Ohio. Republicans insist it is a dead heat and that GOP enthusiasm will be the difference on Election Day. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe there are other states that are easier 'gets' than Ohio and would in combination yield as many or more electoral votes. With the boost from the Des Moines Register, Republicans feel they are close to bagging Iowa. (Rep. Paul Ryan will be there later in the week.) They are likewise extremely bullish on Wisconsin. (Romney and Ryan will both be going there this week.) Also in this tier of very gettable states from the Republicans' perspective is Nevada. Jon Ralston reports that Republicans' performance in early voting is much stronger than 2008, putting that state in play as well." As it turns out, Obama won all those other states by a significantly larger margin than he won Ohio.

On October 30, Rubin wrote:

Four years ago the Republican Party was in danger of losing status as a national party, pundits said. It was too white, too southern and too old. The GOP still has a long way to go with minority voters, but after President's Obama four years in office the Republican presidential ticket is appealing to women, voters in blue state strongholds and independents. Consider the following states with Obama's 2008 margin is in parenthesis: Ohio (Obama +4.6), Florida (Obama + 2.8), Pennsylvania (Obama + 10.8), Virginia (Obama 6.3), New Hampshire, Colorado (Obama +9), Wisconsin (Obama 13.9), Iowa (Obama +9.5), Indiana (Obama +1.1), North Carolina (Obama +.3) and Minnesota (Obama +10.3). In the most recent public polling Romney is ahead or within the margin of error in every single one of these.

Put differently, it is possible Obama loses all of them.

For heaven's sake. In the widely mocked Dick Morris prediction, Romney was forecast to win 325 electoral votes. Rubin's was effectively telling her readers it was possible that Romney would get 341 electoral votes!

On October 29, Rubin slyly spun Hurricane Sandy as well-timed for Romney. "The president and Mitt Romney are both suspending campaigning through Tuesday due to Hurricane Sandy, but that doesn't mean there isn't campaign news. To the delight of Romney forces, the map continues to expand, and without the campaign itself spending a dime," she wrote. "If the candidates really are battling it out for Pennsylvania and Minnesota, Romney's chances look bright."

On October 26, she wrote that "Obama is scrambling to try to turn out his base, understanding that amid the insults, sneers and pettiness he lost a great deal of the moderate middle of the electorate, especially women." Meanwhile, over on the news desk, the Washington Post reported in a Wednesday article, "President Obama is winning women, who comprise 53 percent of the overall electorate, by 10 points. If that margin holds, it will be slightly higher than preelection polling suggested but still less than than the losing margin for John McCain (13 points) and George W. Bush (11 points) among women."

On October 24, Rubin warned her readers away from polls. "Where does the presidential race stand? You can look at the polls, but that isn't the best indication of where the race is neck-and-neck or safely in one side's pocket. A GOP insider from Boston said public polling isn't as revealing as other factors, including where ads remain on the air," she wrote. "...The race is still close in many key states, so even a few points shifting in a critical state may make a huge difference. There is no doubt, however, to those close to the race and most familiar with the data used to determine ad buys and travel schedules that they'd rather be in Romney's position than in Obama's. Given truth serum, the Obama camp would readily agree with that handicapping."

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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