Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Are media viewpoints skewed simply because it is more comfortable for them to interview people who are pretty much like themselves?

From Why Ossoff Lost by Molly Ball reporting on yesterday's defeat of Democrat Jon Ossoff in the Georgia District 6 special election, an event blown all out of proportion in terms of its actual significance. Given how much was spent on media advertising (tens of millions) for this very local race, you can't help but wonder whether there wasn't media collusion to make a mountain out of a mole hill. It certainly was financially remunerative to them.

All sorts of digital ink being spilled on this nothing burger.

The only reason to draw attention to Ball's reporting is as an example of how the internet allows a degree of fact checking on reporters which was not possible even ten years ago.

In this case, the checking capability relates to LinkedIn. Ball quotes three Ossoff supporters (Hazel Hunt, Jennifer Orlow, and Jessica Zeigler) and three Karen Handel (the Republican candidate) supporters (Debbie Moscato, Sandy Capparell, and Joe Webb). Given that all six are on LinkedIn, that allows us to do some very basic eye-balling - Are they representative of the electorate? Whether there is any significance to their conformance or divergence from the demographics is an open question. And obviously, six is a non-significant sample. Likely much of the variance might have to do with chance or unconscious bias on the part of the reporter.

The first thing that leaps out is that 83% of the quoted interviewees are women in an electorate that is 50% female. Is that random chance, deliberate bias, or simply an unconscious bias? Don't know, but it is striking.

Age is another striking element - No one is young among the six. Two retirees and four middle-aged.

Profession is another - four of the six are involved in the healthcare field (two each from Democrat and Republican). One is a teacher (Democrat) and only one is from the competitive private sector (a retired IBM executive.) Education and healthcare, two professions highly dependent on government subsidies or regulations. Again, 83% of those interviewed are professionally involved in fields dependent on the whim and largesse of government. That would certainly skew their views and opinions.

Education attainment is also striking - All six are college graduates versus only 30% amongst the electorate at large.

Country of origin is also out of whack - 15% of Americans are foreign born whereas 33% of those interviewed were foreign born. Presumably, given that they were voting in an election, they are now citizens. 66% of the Ossoff supporting interviewees were foreign born.

That's just a ten minute scan with no other searching. Ball's sample of voters is evenly balanced between Republican and Democrat. Other than that, the sample is markedly skewed. Oversampled on female, college education, foreign birth and in professions that are essentially extensions of the government.

I am not intending to bash Molly Ball. I am pretty certain I have read articles of hers before, and given that she writes for the Atlantic, almost certainly she is strongly partisan. But partisanship is not necessarily what comes through from the sampling of interviews. What manifests most strongly is class and identity insularity.

Where are all the high school graduates, the farmers, the blue collar workers, the minimum wage services people, the young, the STEM people, those in the 75% of the economy which is competitive rather than government regulated/influenced?

Ball interviewed people who are in many ways just like her: college educated, female, and in an industry that is tied to government.

Maybe the media is so skewed in their viewpoints because it is easiest to simply talk to people pretty much like themselves, even if they might be on the other side of the political aisle. That would be a pretty strong bubble shaping your view of the world.

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