We woke up to a pretty extraordinary email this morning from CNN's PR team. It contained the results of their latest poll, conducted by ORC International between Sept. 17 and 19. This poll offered some good news for Hillary Clinton, advertised right in the email's subject line: "CNN/ORC Poll: Clinton's lead over Sanders grows." Unfortunately for Clinton, there was also some bad news, right in the headline of the post: "Clinton's lead over Sanders shrinks."
Huh, what? Yes, this is a real thing sent to the inboxes of real reporters. Let's go to the Eat The Press Telestrator:
As you can see, we've been invited to participate in some cognitive dissonance, in which two diametrically opposed concepts of statistical trends are happening at the same time.
But here's the thing: In a way, they actually are happening at the same time. What matters is your perspective. Once again, let's go to the Eat The Press telestrator.
As you can see, if we look at the race as a series of snapshots, then we observe that from the last time CNN/ORC conducted a poll, Clinton's lead over Sanders grew from 10 points to 18 points. However, if we use the June 26-28 poll as our starting point, then Clinton's lead has shrunk considerably from 43 points.
Is this confusing? It shouldn't be. This is all about freedom, my friends. The freedom to write whatever story you want, regardless of what's actually happening in a race that's still way too in its infancy to actually assign any real salience to polling. If you want to write that the Democratic primary race is widening, you can. You can also write that the race is tightening. You can also use the Aug. 13-16 polls as your starting point, observe that Clinton has maintained an 18-point lead, and declare that the race is static.
(You wouldn't do that, though. Instead you'd write the "Joe Biden Narrows Gap With Clinton" story. In fact, what's wrong with you? Why haven't you written that story yet? That would be such a sexy, on-trend thing to write right now!)
At any rate, the most accurate way CNN could have described this poll in a headline would be to write "Area Numbers Collected, Placed In Spreadsheet."
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