Regular Swampland readers are familiar with the insights of Jackson Dykman, our datameister here at TIME. In a series of emails to me today, he took a look at my earlier post and had some problems with it–not with the poll data itself, but with the way it was framed in the New York Times story. Here’s part of what Jackson had to say:
I too was really struck by the NYT’s characterization of its own poll. I read the full poll first and then the story when they posted it last night. I’ve rarely seen a story so wildly off from the actual data on which it is based.
Aside from point C in the Obama response (which is true and basically negates the story), the premise of the story is, well, utter nonsense.
Are we really supposed to think that because a black man has become the Democratic nominee in recent weeks that he somehow should have cured (or markedly improved) race relations in this country? This is just a silly premise, yet the story thrust of the story seems to be shock and surprise that the mere fact of Obama’s candidacy hasn’t reversed—or obliterated—the slight increase in racial tensions in this country over the past 8 years.
In a second e-mail, Jackson adds:
I can’t decide whether it’s the headline or the story that really creates the schism. The hed in the paper is: “Poll finds Obama candidacy isn’t closing country’s divisions on race.”
Are you kidding me? The guy just wrapped up the nomination. Racial divisions in the U.S. have a wee bit of a 400-year head start on him. If Obama goes on to win the election, I really hope the Times does this poll again in four years. Whatever the result, THAT would be a story.
I’m going to show my age here, but this reminds me a lot of some days I spent reporting in Chicago way back during the Harold Washington/Bernard Epton race for mayor. I did a bunch of man-on-the-street stuff in some white West Side neighborhoods. The most prevalent rumor at the time was that if Washington were elected, he would cut off electricity to white neighborhoods. People believed this.
Thinking of that and reading this poll, I gotta think we have made progress.
Two other points. In the poll data, 79% of white voters think an Obama administration would treat both whites and blacks the same. And 82% of white voters think a McCain administration would treat both races the same. Okay, fine. The real story in this question is this—90% of black voters think Obama would treat whites and blacks the same, but only 50% of black voters think McCain would treat both races the same.
Yet Obama is the one who’s failing to close “the country’s divisions on race”?
Finally, I looked it up again because I couldn’t believe it, but Point E in the Obama response is correct. Why on earth would the story say “there’s even racial dissension over Mr. Obama’s wife, Michelle: She was viewed favorably by 58% of black voters, compared with 24% of white voters.”
The numbers for Cindy McCain: 20% favorable among white voters, 9% favorable among black voters (!!!)
I’ve long made the argument that journalists care wildly more about candidates’ spouses than readers do, but someone needs to tell me why the racial dissension is “over Michelle Obama.”