When endeavoring to stay informed about a 2020 campaign landscape that features dozens of candidates, it can be tempting to rely on political polling as a shortcut to news-gathering. Each day, it seems, the candidates multiply. How can anyone be expected to keep track of the changing attitudes, ideologies, and behaviors that they inspire in voters?
The overemphasis on polling in coverage of political campaigns has its downsides, though. Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election came as a shock to many members of the mainstream press, who had assumed the experienced Democratic candidate would prevail over the eccentric real-estate mogul. But even accounting for the specter of fake news and nebulous Russian intervention, it’s difficult to overstate the role that wide-ranging journalistic complacence played in the election results.
Speaking Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, the Washington Post reporter Robert Costa cautioned against the instinct to rely on voter polling to guide coverage: “It helps inform the reporting, but the reporting has to remain at the core. The reporters have to get out in the country and talk to voters … If you sit in a newsroom and you rely on polling data, then you are getting just a sliver of the picture.”