Donald Trump is dividing the church

As women of faith find their voice and Millennial Christians question the Religious Right, what does making Donald Trump the candidate of the faithful mean for the church?

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I was traveling through the Mississippi Delta when I heard the tape of Donald Trump’s “locker room talk.”

“How can he recover from this,” I initially reacted, before reminding myself how many times we’ve wondered that before.

But as the weekend progressed, the backlash was stronger than any Trump controversy to date, as more establishment Republicans disavowed their own candidate.

Trump couldn’t have been luckier from a news cycle perspective. The tape leaked on Friday afternoon and the exodus followed while most of us were watching football. By the time we started paying attention again, the second debate had fragmented political media attention in a million different directions. And while Trump may have not won over many undecideds with his performance, he delivered enough red meat to his base to give fleeing Republicans pause.

Leaks targeted both candidates that Friday. Before the Trump tape, Wikileaks released emails containing text excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street executives. Both leaks were revelations only insomuch as they confirmed things we already knew about each person’s character.

But the Trump audio was the far bigger story. For one thing, it was more visceral. We could hear the crude words from Trump’s own lips, as opposed to reading the pandering words attributed to Clinton.

More importantly, while the Clinton excerpts outraged people who were never going to vote for her, the Trump tape caused division among his supporters… a division that’s more significant than one election.

It was the countless churches lining that Mississippi highway, and highways like it all across securely red states. Trump divided Evangelicals.

Continue reading “Donald Trump is dividing the church”

Should debate moderators fact check? Polling, psychology & reaching Millennials

Tonight, a likely record-setting television audience will watch the first presidential debate of the 2016 election. And the majority of that audience will not trust any of the three people on the stage. Would fact checking change any of that?

Tonight, a likely record-setting television audience will watch the first presidential debate of the 2016 election. And the majority of that audience will not trust any of the three people on the stage.

Donald Trump is distrusted by 57% of Americans, according to last weekend’s ABC/Washington Post poll. As with so much in this bizzaro-world election, that would be a damning figure if not for his opponent – 60% of those surveyed viewed Hillary Clinton as untrustworthy.

The moderator of the debate, NBC’s Lester Holt, meanwhile, is the stand in for “the media,” which is less trusted than either historically distrusted presidential candidate. Only 32% of Americans have at least a “fair amount” of trust in media, according to a Gallup poll released in mid-September.

So, it’s not surprising that we’re talking a lot about fact checking at the debates. The question is whether or not it’s the role of an agent of the widely distrusted media to call out either widely distrusted candidate on claims that are demonstrably false.

Plenty has been written about whether fact checking is the moderator’s role. The moderator of the third debate, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, has already said he doesn’t think it’s his job. Yesterday, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates agreed with Wallace’s stance, in an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources, saying that live fact-checking was too much of a grey area.

I want to approach this from a slightly different angle – would a fact-checking moderator benefit anyone? And if so, who?

First, we need to look into the minds of voters, and under the hood of the polling data.

Continue reading “Should debate moderators fact check? Polling, psychology & reaching Millennials”

[Media Rundown] The Democrats held a convention, but everyone’s still talking Trump

The Democrats channel Ronald Reagan, while Donald Trump continues to own the news cycle. That, plus Bill Clinton plays with balloons.

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The nominating conventions are in the books, and we are now in the final 100 days of the presidential election. We looked at the Republican National Convention last time. Now, it’s the Democrats’ turn.

I thought we saw political theatre of actual consequence from both conventions – very rare for the polished infomercials these events have become. Both parties displayed friction. The continued resistance by Bernie Sanders supporters got the DNC off to a rocky start, spurred in no small part by email leaked by (Russian?) hackers suggesting the Democratic Party favored Hillary Clinton throughout the primary. Set up for a freefall into chaos, the Democrats used their convention tried to redefine American politics.

Wait, what?

Continue reading “[Media Rundown] The Democrats held a convention, but everyone’s still talking Trump”

Sunday morning talk shows and portrayals of public opinion during the 2012 presidential campaign

The 2016 presidential campaign has been unique thus far, to say the least. It makes the 2012 cycle look downright boring. Yet, one aspect of the 2012 campaign that stood out to me was the use of public opinion polling by media to frame the race.

This paper was presented August 7, 2016 at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minn. An early version was presented February 27, 2016 at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Midwinter Conference in Norman, Okla.

The 2016 presidential campaign has been unique thus far, to say the least. It makes the 2012 cycle look downright boring. Yet, one aspect of the 2012 campaign that stood out to me was the use of public opinion polling by media to frame the race. Leading up to Election Day, it seemed pretty clear that President Obama would have the electoral votes to win a second term. Election forecasting guru Nate Silver thought so, and most polling data agreed.

However, a completely different picture was painted in conservative media – at least in a few anecdotal instances. Fox News contributor Dick Morris infamously predicted a “landslide” victory for Mitt Romney, while Karl Rove’s refusal to accept Obama’s victory-sealing win in Ohio made for awkward Election Night coverage for the cable news ratings leader. Both had evidence on their side – poll numbers that made it look like Romney was indeed going to win Ohio and the White House. But those polls were in the minority, and they were wrong.

This matters. Previous research suggests that publishing of public opinion polls can actually influence public opinion, and eventually, voting. To be fair, these findings have always been tough to untangle. Does a poll showing a candidate with a big lead create a bandwagon effect where everyone wants to vote for the inevitable winner, or does it spur an underdog effect in which the losing candidate’s supporters mobilize to close the gap? Does depicting a close race boost turnout, while voters skip out on a projected blowout? There’s evidence of all of these. Continue reading “Sunday morning talk shows and portrayals of public opinion during the 2012 presidential campaign”

Are open primaries a good idea? Depends on who you ask: Primary systems and polarization in light of the Mississippi Senate race

Mississippi’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate was not decided purely by Republican voters. While the specific number of “crossover” votes can be difficult to ascertain, the fact is that turnout in traditionally Democratic areas increased dramatically from the June 3 primary to the June 24 runoff (perk of all that national attention? Fantastic data journalism). It’s also true that incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran’s campaign targeted those voters between his 2nd-place finish to Tea Party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel on June 3 and his victory on June 24.

AP/Politico
AP/Politico

While legal in Mississippi, plenty will say that’s dirty politics. McDaniel certainly felt so. He refused to concede on election night, arguing that “the conservative movement took a backseat to liberal Democrats in Mississippi.”

“Before this race ends,” McDaniel said, “We have to be certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters.”

And while I felt McDaniel’s reality-defying non-concession speech only affirmed those who question the ability of ideologues to govern, I also felt a certain degree of sympathy. In the eyes of his supporters (and, to be fair, some of his detractors), his party’s nomination was stolen from him by people who wouldn’t consider themselves part of that party.

Primaries exist so that parties can select their nominee for a particular office. That used to be a decision left to party leaders (via conventions or caucuses), but because of a number of reasons – establishment-bias and corruption chief among them – popular votes through primary elections have become the nominating mechanism of choice. Because of their purpose, many states have closed primaries, meaning that the only people allowed to vote in a party primary are registered members of that party. “Semi-closed” primaries also allow for non-affiliated voters (independents) to participate. (A handy map of state primary rules is available here.)

Mississippi’s primaries are open, meaning that with each new election cycle, voters can choose anew which party’s primary they wish to vote in, regardless of personal political affiliation. In the case of the Cochran-McDaniel runoff, anyone who voted in the Democratic primary on June 3 was ineligible to vote in the Republican runoff (they already made their choice this cycle). But everyone else, including registered Democrats who stayed home on June 3, could participate.

Cristiano Ronaldo is confident you don’t want to play against him. // Jorge Silva, Reuters

Political scientists question just how often open primaries lead to strategic voting, and whether the effect is anything but marginal (see references below). Even the notion that open primaries moderate candidate choice – the reason many states adopted them – doesn’t have much empirical support. But on its face, it doesn’t quite jive with the intent of a primary. To use a timely, though imperfect illustration, imagine if World Cup rosters were selected by the rest of the world, including fans of opposing teams that also want to win. Would Americans want Cristiano Ronaldo to be part of the Portuguese squad? Would anyone other than the Portuguese? Probably not. Fortunately, only a coach with firm ties to Portugal selects that nation’s team, and he wants to field the best players possible.

However, that is not what crossover voters did in the Mississippi Senate race. They didn’t sabotage the primary by lending support to the candidate they were most likely to beat in a general election… that would have been McDaniel, hands down. So why did liberal voters want a Republican nominee that Democrats can’t beat? Continue reading “Are open primaries a good idea? Depends on who you ask: Primary systems and polarization in light of the Mississippi Senate race”

#MSsen and the art of the modified tweet

It’s election day again in Mississippi, where the nation’s most interesting midterm race heads for a runoff. The contest between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel matches a 41-year Capitol Hill veteran who brings home pork for the poorest state in the union against a 41-year-old Tea Party conservative riding the wave of anti-government, anti-establishment, anti-Obama sentiment.

National political reporters have had their eye on Mississippi for a few weeks now, producing some interesting reads. I enjoyed BuzzFeed’s investigative reporting in the digital age, connecting dots between McDaniel’s campaign, a blogger who broke into Cochran’s wife’s nursing home, and Wikipedia edits. The Washington Post explored the popularity of Tea Party fiscal conservatives in states that benefit most from liberal federal spending. The Upshot, essentially the New York Times’ Nate Silver-less FiveThirtyEight, used Mississippi as a case study for what extremely partisan electorates do to the election process.

This blog post is not about any of that, really. It’s more of an aside from the primary three weeks ago, and it has to do with language. More specifically, language in the Twitter age.

Continue reading “#MSsen and the art of the modified tweet”

Where was the end when we needed it?

After all of the campaigning, all of the political posturing, all of the polling and remarkably reality-defying punditry, all of the… noise, the election finally happened. In its wake, we saw the worst of people on social media. I counted a few particularly rogue Facebook statuses that had been deleted by Wednesday. A handful of dumb students reflected poorly on the University of Mississippi.

The whole thing makes us crazy. But credit Governor Romney and President Obama, because perhaps the greatest moments of a multi-year campaign came at its end.

This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation […] Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work, and we citizens also have to rise to occasion […] [W]e look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics. – Mitt Romney, Concession

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth. – Barack Obama, Acceptance

How gracious in defeat was the governor? How re-energized and inspiring was the president? With the burden of the campaign finally removed from each man’s shoulders, we saw what we had been looking for the entire time. In the fog of war, divide and conquer was the master plan, when we the people were looking for sense and civility all along.

Calls for unity. Calls for effort from citizen and servant alike. Calls for prayer. The invocation of God, for one night, not a political province of the right but a hope for one nation.

Maybe it won’t last. Probably it won’t last. But on the night when so many Democrats were gloating and so many Republicans were forecasting the fall of Rome, Mitt Romney’s campaign website was streaming Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in a simple gesture of solidarity. And so, on Election Night, this disaffected voter watched two men emerge from battle, wondering where philosophies like these were one week earlier, and what will have happened to them one week later.