In a rare display of media self-awareness, New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton called out CNN coverage of the nationally-covered special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district. Criticizing their journalistic standards, Lipton tweeted a June 10 article from CNN citing a poll estimating a seven point lead for the Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff over his Republican opponent Karen Handel. "Looks like we have more evidence that polling is flawed and reporters need to stop relying on it to shape coverage," Lipton tweeted on June 21.
Looks like we have more evidence that polling is flawed and reporters need to stop relying on it to shape coverage https://t.co/pd8slLeGoZ— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) June 21, 2017
Handel defeated Ossoff by five points Tuesday. The House race was the most expensive in the nation's history (exceeding $50 million), a fierce contest over a seat that many liberal commentators claimed was ripe for a Democratic victory, which would have proven an important electoral symbol that the party was beginning to crack President Trump's political support among moderate and even conservative-leaning constituencies. After a weeks-long outpouring of national contributions, vast attention from political leaders, and relentless media hype, this supposed “referendum on President Trump” failed to deliver.
Tuesday evening's defeat was so shocking for Democrats in part because of the deeply flawed coverage and biased reporting leading up to Election Day, which overstated Democrats' prospects for capturing the seat. A classic example is the article tweeted by Lipton, published by CNN ten days before the election, trumpeting Ossoff’s purported lead.
The poll, released by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, asserted that Ossoff was favored by 13 percent of Republican voters, among other fantastical metrics suggesting a substantial Ossoff victory. CNN diligently broke this story as national news, despite its clear weakness: the poll failed to report the number of likely voters included in the survey. The poll also did not reflect the polling landscape at the time of its release. WSB-TV / Landmark Communications conducted two polls close to the one circulated nationally: the first, less than two weeks prior, predicted the election within the margin of error; the second, released a day before the Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, had the same result. Additionally, an 11 Alive / Survey USA poll released just a day after the article’s publication had both candidates in a dead heat.
The implications of the CNN article go beyond a mere polling miss or general polling inaccuracies. Rather, they speak to CNN and other media’s selective reliance on polls to wrongly frame elections as inevitable victories for liberal candidates. CNN’s own hype of the poll is indicative of selective use of flawed polling and a deliberate attempt to present coverage in a way that unfairly suggested an Ossoff win. To CNN, this flawed poll was conveniently elevated to national news—and those polls that predicted a closer race weren’t mentioned, even for context. This article is a clear and unjustifiable example of clear polling biases and inaccuracies that were hugely prevalent throughout CNN’s coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign and, as this week’s Georgia congressional election demonstrates, remain a centerpiece of the network’s ongoing and deeply rooted liberal and pro-Democrat institutional bias.