US election polling data reveals that mainstream media is largely divorced from its audience
The election campaign coverage by US mainstream media gave heavy play to certain subjects that ultimately failed to reflect voters or their interests. With the most ignored voting power bloc being single women.
While the dust has yet to settle in the American presidential race, exit polling data already gives us an x-ray of who the voters were and why they made the choices they did at the ballot box in favor of either Joe Biden or Donald Trump.
The data proves that the mainstream media missed some of the more glaring trends in the run-up to the vote, which could explain their current shell-shock. By the US media’s own standards – and its claims about aiming to reflect America’s diversity – its failure to reflect and represent this election’s most influential trends and voices is a stunning proof of its failure in serving the American people.
American audiences have been bombarded for most of this year with nonstop coronavirus coverage – including daily death and “case count” tickers, like it was some kind of grotesque morbid global competition. The overwhelming message from almost all of the US cable news outlets broadcasting 24/7 was that Trump was failing to control the virus and that Biden could only do better. Of course, no actual proof was given to suggest that Biden had the magic formula to halt in its tracks a virus that seems largely oblivious to human machinations.
But it turns out that the media obsessing over Covid-19 was overwhelmingly disproportionate to American voters’ actual concerns. Just 17 percent of those surveyed said that the pandemic mattered most in deciding their vote, according to exit polls by Edison Research for the National Election Pool – far behind the economy at 35 percent and even racial inequality at 20 percent.
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The economy was the main issue at play in the election, with 82 percent who cited it as their primary concern choosing Trump over Biden. This indicates that the media’s hyper-focus on “sexier” issues like the pandemic and race left the field wide open for candidates to feed voters whatever spin they wanted about their own economic plans. The press spent considerably less time unspinning Trump’s constant proclamations accusing Joe Biden of being a Trojan horse for radical left-wing socialists who would raise taxes and drag America into some sort of new era of communism. It’s the media’s fault for having ceded Trump that terrain, virtually unchallenged.
There are also significant demographic voting blocks that will have played critical roles in the outcome of the race due to their overwhelming preference for one candidate. While a great deal of media attention tends to focus on the evangelical or born-again Christian block, they only represent 27 percent of voters in the exit polls. And while US media spent its time handwringing over the political extremes, it’s still moderates who make up the largest voting block – 40 percent of those exit polled – and who voted 64 percent in favor of Biden.
And rarely does the American mainstream media consider unmarried people with no kids as a demographic worthy of representation or give too much thought to issues or programming that may be of interest to them, but exit polls reveal their strength at the ballot box.
While efforts are made to cater to a diverse demographic, they’re typically only skin-deep. And the audience has to shuttle between CNN, MSNBC and Fox News to get a selection of views, as each outlet tends to lean either right or left ideologically. But there’s far more to diversity than meets the eye.
Unmarried women, in particular, represented 24 percent of voters, but 62 percent of them threw their support behind Biden, making the single woman the largest single gender-based voting power in this election.
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But when was the last time that any American news outlet gave any thought to programming aimed at single women, as they tend to do with every other demographic under the pretext of reflecting their diverse audience? Can we expect some reporting now delving into this influential voting bloc and explaining who exactly they are? Are they single moms? Career women? Childfree by choice? (Exit polls also show that the largest voting bloc defined by children – or lack thereof – is women without children at 34 percent of all voters.)
And what exactly about Biden appealed to these women? Or, alternatively, what about Trump turned them off? This isn’t an epiphenomenon, but now a proven voting power that dwarfs the racial demographics whose percentage of total voters barely break into the double digits, according to the exit polls, and over which American networks constantly obsess.
So let’s see some effort by these media networks to promote the voices of this influential and underrepresented demographic of American voters, already, with equal media visibility and representation.
If US media players seem surprised at the outcome of the election, they should be. The data shows that they live in a bubble of their own creation largely divorced from the realities of the average voter – the people who really decide the fate of the nation.
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