Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When Bias Backfires

You got altered information
You were told to not take chances
--The Who

In the run up to the 2004 presidential election, the  media's slant toward Kerry and away from Bush intensified. The negative Bush ads and failure to portray Kerry as anything other than qualified revealed a bias that was blatantly obvious to anyone but the most partisan Kerry supporter.

On election day, many polls (and all of the odds-making sites) had Kerry in the lead. But then early election night results found Bush taking several swing states by surprise, and the tables quickly turned.

I remember thinking that one factor working in Bush's favor may have been the heavily biased tone of the media. Their output was so slanted that large groups of voters in the middle may have said "enough" and pulled the lever for Bush as an expression of protest or of balancing the situation.

I wonder whether the same phenomenon may be at work again.

Media coverage of the two presidential candidates this time around has been so slanted that some outlets have confessed that they must compromise journalistic integrity in order to keep Trump from winning. Thus, Clinton gets a free pass on criminal behavior while Trump is put under the microscope for issues that appear trivial in comparison.

Onlookers with a sense of procedural fairness perceive this situation as out of balance and, although they might not see eye to eye with Trump, begin to root for the guy.

And if the bias becomes slanted enough, people who had no original intent to do so may vote for him.

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