CNN’s new poll showing Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton by a couple of points is grabbing headlines and raising eyebrows. Not only does it contradict basically every other poll out there (this NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, also released Tuesday, shows Clinton “holding steady” with a healthy four point lead), but it also looks like CNN screwed up its methodology. And the network has everything to gain from making this presidential race look closer than it actually is.
The poll, conducted Sept. 1-4 and released Tuesday, sees Trump beating Clinton with “likely voters” by two points. Looking at it slightly differently makes a huge difference: Registered voters prefer Clinton by three points. Both are within the margin of error. The poll imagines a four-way race, with the Libertarian Party and Green Party wrestling away seven and two points respectively.
On Tuesday night’s MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, guest host Joy Reid discussed the survey with former Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, noting that the sample polled by CNN doesn’t match the makeup of the actual general electorate. The poll, which is “based on 876 registered voters and 10 individuals who plan to register to vote,” under-samples Democrats and over-counts independents and Republicans.
1,001 adults were polled in total, 28% of whom were self-described Democrats, 32% Republicans, and 40% independents.
According to exit polls, Democrats made up 38% of voters in the 2012 presidential election, while only 32% of those who showed up at the polls were Republicans. Just 29% called themselves “independent or something else.”
40% is a good number for independent voters in the population at large, but not the electorate. And in the total U.S. population, Democrats straight-up outnumber Republicans.
Belcher said that their pollsters should have seen “red flags” everywhere.
In actuality, there’s very little chance that Trump will beat Clinton on November 8th, and CNN knows this very well. Heck, even the Dallas Morning News knows. Here’s the thing: There’s money to be made in a too-close-to-call presidential race that isn’t actually too close to call. A lot of it.
Election years are always a bonanza for cable news networks, but the 2016 election has been especially ludicrous for CNN. According to the Wall Street Journal, the beleaguered network has seen its viewership jump by more than 100% since the beginning of the primary season, allowing it to put a serious dent in the lead long held by Fox News:
Since the start of the year, when the primary season began in earnest, CNN’s prime-time audience has more than doubled to 435,000 viewers a night in its target demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds, according to Nielsen.
After years of weak ratings, the network is nipping at the heels of Fox News, the longtime ratings leader in cable news, whose prime-time audience has grown 42% to 450,000 viewers, and is roughly doubling the audience of MSNBC, the weakest of the three major cable news channels. which is up 73% at 225,000.
And its ad revenue is soaring:
The channel, owned by Time Warner Inc., ended up boosting its ad rates for the second Republican debate, in September. It charged advertisers as much as $200,000 for a 30-second spot, roughly 40 times its usual prime-time price, and continued to raise prices across its schedule as interest in the election escalated, according to people familiar with the matter.
While not quite Super Bowl numbers, $400,000 a minute is enough to make even the most timid of network execs go for the jugular. And this comes in the wake of CNN’s effort to be seen as less left-wing, and as it adds “many more middle-of-the-road conservative voices to an already strong stable of liberal voices,” according to the network’s head. With three presidential debates right around the corner, and two more months of breathless wall-to-wall coverage—substantive or not—ahead of us, CNN has good reason to ignore those red flags. One way or another, this is going to be a horse race.
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