Thursday, September 8, 2016

CNN: Explain That To Me

Justin Holbrock

The world of American politics is complex. From the Constitution, to the Electoral College and the checks and balance system, democracy in the United States is far from simple.

Unfortunately, the complexity inherent in U.S. politics turns many citizens away because they don't understand how the system works and don't have time to learn the details on their own.

That brings me to the theme of this post — helping American voters understand this election. While trying to figure out what I wanted to write about, I noticed how fairly easy CNN Chief National Correspondent John King was making it to understand why the latest CNN/ORC poll showed Donald Trump topping Hillary Clinton 45 percent to 43 percent.

King, who was on Anderson Cooper 360° at the time, played a crucial role by explaining how the numbers came about.

He pointed out that the two candidates were so close in the poll for several reasons. One reason was that voters viewed Trump as a better candidate when it came to handling the economy with a 15 percent lead over Clinton is this category.

Another reason was the other 15 percent gap between Trump and Clinton on the topic of who voters think is more trustworthy and honest with Trump having 50 percent favor to Clinton's 35 percent.

Hillary Clinton and Senator Tim Kaine on the campaign's new charter plane in Cleveland on Monday. Photo credit: Sam Hodgson for the New York Times.

By pointing this out, King added another element to this CNN show, which is guilty of bringing on way too many guests at one time as I mentioned last week. He also did the viewers a favor by helping them understand the polling aspect of the general election.

A similar approach to explaining the poll was done by CNN Political Director David Chalian:

The insight King and Chalian provided was supported by CNN's online coverage, which delved even deeper into the numbers to help the audience be more informed.

The article goes into detail about which demographics favor Trump and which favor Clinton. An example used in the story is that independent voters give Trump a 20 percent edge while non-whites favor Clinton by a four-to-one margin.

While the article's goal was to show how the numbers played out and explain how Trump erased Clinton's lead, it also considered the broader picture. The article included the fact that 59 percent of voters expect to see Clinton win while only 34 percent think Trump has a better chance.

This important fact, placed strategically at the top of the article, is there to balance the reaction people may have when seeing Trump now leads Clinton after he trailed by eight percentage points following the two major party conventions.

What You Need To Know
A second area where I found CNN simplifying its coverage to benefit the viewer was by going to journalists out in the field. These reporters came on a show after hearing a candidate speak and highlighted what should be taken away from Clinton or Trump.

One example would be a reporter going live from North Carolina to summarize Trump's appearance by saying he focused on three things: national security, repealing ObamaCare and building the wall.

Meanwhile, the reporter who spent time on Clinton's plane brought up her biggest points, which were remarks on Trump ranging from his flawed national security plan to him not releasing his tax returns.

Be Careful Relying on One Source
While it's incredibly beneficial to the viewer to have CNN explain their poll both on television and online, it shouldn't be the only place people go for their information.

The CNN/ORC poll interviewed 1,001 Americans over the phone, which is what led to the results they found. Taking a closer look, though, shows the poll can be interpreted in different ways depending on what areas are being looked at and can also be skewed.

Parting Thoughts
CNN's effort to help the public understand the election through detailed analysis and simplistic yet comprehensive field reporting should be commended. But it should also be expanded upon. There are still too many people on one show at any given time and a return to simplicity is in the best interest of the people CNN serves.

It should also be noted polls that come from a news source should not be taken as gospel. Although polls from a source like CNN/ORC are reliable and provide helpful insight, they should be viewed knowing that there are many different ways to interpret what they mean and the final numbers are based on who was interviewed in the first place.

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