On Election Night, the talking heads on Fox News Channel ate crow. (Or was it Fox Business? — could be either, or both, for I was flitting through the channels.) The news organization, which bills itself as “fair and balanced,” had been reporting, prior to voting, on polling by Dick Morris and Rasmussen that showed Romney ahead. As Romney crashed and burned, the contrarians at Fox had to accept the fact that they were off the mark, big time.
This will be made much of in some circles, driving home the theme that Fox isn’t news so much as propaganda.
And there’s some truth in that.
Fox is “fair and balanced” only in relation to the propaganda spewed from the other networks. Fox balances ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN; it’s not more balanced all by itself. It balances in context. For example, the news organization often takes up stories worthy of coverage that the leftier-leaning networks consign to the Blind Spot of their ideologies. A recent story of this sort was the idiotic cover story for the Libyan uprising against American diplomatic positions. You know, YouTubeGate, in which the Obama administration worked mightily and repeatedly to present the uprising as a spontaneous reaction to an idiotic anti-Muslim movie uploaded to YouTube. (The BBC still carries this story as if it were true.)
In the case of polling, though, what we could have been witnessing was pure propaganda. But it was likely just wishful thinking. Modern political polling isn’t just a report of calls made and answers given. There’s a lot of theory behind each poll, for the raw data requires adjustment. And by “theory” you can sometimes just say “presupposition.” Conservative pollsters had a different perspective from liberal pollsters. Sometimes their distinct presuppositions pay off; sometimes they don’t.
What we can’t say, though, is that “reality” showed the conservative pollsters were wrong. There’s a level of fluidity to social life. You make a prophecy (or take a poll) and people react to the prophecy (or poll). Sometimes their reactions reinforce the prophecy, sometimes even making it come true where it wasn’t before (the classic case of rumor leading to a bank run is a case in point). Sometimes the reactions counteract the prophecy, making it appear false.
It is possible that the Fox polling was self-defeating, in that it spurred “progressive” voters who might have grown complacent to vote for Obama.
I’m not saying this happened. I’m saying it can happen, has happened in similar situations.
And it is this possibility that explains why some people go into the polling biz: to influence events, not merely to predict them.
In that game, you cannot win every time.