Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Night of the Living Hillary

National Ledger - Hillary Clinton Campaign Back From the Dead (Jan 9, 2008): "The Hillary Clinton campaign was supposed to be dead this morning, figuratively speaking that is. According to nearly all political wizards, the Hillary campaign was destined to be over and mowed down by the Barack Obama campaign juggernaut in the hinterlands of New Hampshire... Down by double digits in polls just a day earlier, Hillary was able to parlay a flood of tears and sobs into a stunning upset victory over the inexperienced, but (as Joe Biden would say) the "clean and articulate," senator from Illinois. Pundits were thus sent scrambling for answers to this post-Christmas miracle."

Watching a story like this develop from the beginning was a painfully clear example of how the media influences the decisions of the public. First, they were just coming off a wave of accusations that Hillary's campaign, the most well-funded one on the Democratic side I might add, was over after Iowa. Give up, folks, she lost the first of 50 primary races in a non-representative sample of the country, she may as well stop trying. In just four years, we have gone from calling the results of crucial states too early, and therefore getting it plainly wrong out of nothing but childish impatience and a 'me first' reporting style, to calling the results of an entire primaries battle based on the non-final opinion of less than 250,000 people whose judgment I wouldn't trust anyway.

From there, stories abounded of Obama's unforseen (really? I always thought he was a viable contender), absolutely unstoppable momentum and Hillary's demise. Barack dominated the New Hampshire polls, his words were treated like gold, young girls swooned as he got off airplanes. Then came the waterworks. As drops of pure emotion fell down Hillary's cheeks, the women of America (or at least New Hampshire) had a collective bonding moment and decided to stand with solidarity with this generation's equivalent of Rosie the Riveter. Their points of disagreement, their distrust of a heavily embedded politician, their yearning desire for someone fresh and inspiring (the reasons they were intending on voting for Obama in the first place), all were put to the side as they held hands in a strength circle and nudged Hil (as they now call her) to victory.

The news outlets were so prescient in their coverage of this event. They claimed that even though it was a barely a day and a half before the vote took place, that this could turn the unturnable tide and get this struggling candidate back in the game. Day and night they showed the image and retold the humanizing tale to emphasize how this could be the moment that changes everything. This could be the pivotal point that brings her "back from the dead." Lo and behold, the votes come in and while Barack got the 37% he was predicted to receive in the now worthless poll projections, Hillary had jumped 9 points to receive the blessing of a state that only weeks before had been considered in the bag, and had slipped out of her grasp for an excruciating 5 days.

"Did the the tears win the people back?" some journalists asked.

"This was obviously a ploy," certain pundits demanded.

"The polls said that Barack was clearly in the lead, Hillary cried, and then Hillary won. The event was undoubtedly staged and is clearly the cause for the win," an imaginary commentator was quoted as saying.

* * *

The problem with the entire situation is that every source was inundated with an overstated, and often false claim. Namely, that Hillary Clinton was bawling at that diner. However, because the aforementioned claim was spouted from any reporter who wanted to keep his damn job, people believed the statement even if they wouldn't have come to that conclusion by watching the video on their own. She didn't cry, she got slightly choked up. Granted, it was a show of some emotion, but a mere whimper doesn't qualify you as a particularly emotive person. If that widely-held opinion could be swayed that easily, then it certainly shouldn't have been something that determined their vote so vehemently in the first place.

Most people report that their opinions are not shaped by the news. Rather, they believe that they take in bits of information from numerous sources and come to their own conclusion. Psychological studies have indicated in more than one instance, however, that a person may perceive an opinion to be more widespread if the claim is repeated often, and that an opinion that is believed to be widespread is more likely to be considered true.

Therefore if the major media outlets incessantly repeat that Hillary's tears [sic] will influence the vote in New Hampshire, and if one believes that many understand the purported event to be an acceptable reason to sway their vote, and if the actual conclusion is that the vote was swayed to Hillary, then the reporting of the event should be considered a main definable cause for that sway.

The counter-argument is that you can't be sure that it was Hillary's sniffles that swung it over. Well, I suggest you look at the video yourself and determine if it warranted the massive, simultaneous change of heart.

To Sum It Up: Barack's final percentage was 37%, the same number in pre-election polls that show him winning as was in post-election results that proved him lost. Hillary was predicted to win New Hampshire for weeks before the Iowa caucuses, so the actual results could, in a way, be seen as a correction of the overblown impact of Barack's win.

Hillary got about the same results as pre-Iowa polls predicted. Barack got the more than pre-Iowa polls predicted, but the same as pre-New Hampshire polls predicted.

Conclusion: All Iowa served to do was boost Obama's popularity at John Edward's expense, while Hillary remained scathed but relatively stable.

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