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September 13, 2012 9:20 AM Over-the-Top Claims About Politics: One More Time

By Andrew Gelman

I’d like to see Paul Krugman’s evidence for this claim:

What really happened in the final months of [the 2000] election? The answer — not a popular one with journalists, but very obviously true to anyone who lived through it — was that the press took sides. Reporters liked Bush and didn’t like Gore, and as a result they treated Bush with kid gloves while gleefully passing on every smear against his opponent.

Far be it from me to question something that was “obviously true to anyone who lived through it”—as a non-T.V. owner, I think it’s safe to say that I did not actually live through the 2000 election campaign—but … really??? Even if it’s true that reporters liked Bush and didn’t like Gore (again, I’d like to see the evidence), one thing we do know is that twice as many journalists are Democrats as Republicans. At least, that’s what was found in this survey:

Weaver, D., R. Beam, B. Brownlee, P. S. Voakes, and G. C. Wilhoit. 2003. The American Journalist Survey. Indiana University School of Journalism.

P.S. Coincidentally, I found this the same day I bashed Niall Ferguson for garbling political science research. Or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence. I wasn’t going around searching for more examples of academics going too far in their political analyses, but it might be that writing the Ferguson blog got me attuned to the problem.

P.P.S. In a comment, John Sides refers to research that found that the news media were indeed amplifying negative stories about Gore. So, even though I still don’t see the evidence for Krugman’s claim that “Reporters liked Bush and didn’t like Gore,” it does appear that the news media had some effect on perceptions of Gore’s integrity.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.