Man Without Qualities

Saturday, September 14, 2002

It's the Turn Out and the Independents, Silly

The New York Times runs a strange and intellectually dishonest article on the New Jersey Senate race. The article purports to discuss whether Mr. Torricelli might be saved by the argument that the race is not just "a contest between Mr. Torricelli and his Republican challenger, Douglas R. Forrester, but a choice between a senator they view as ethically compromised and the risk of a Republican-controlled Senate." The Times article is strange because if focuses entirely on how well this argument is carrying among already serious Democrats.

The article itself admits that in New Jersey: "Among registered voters, 25 percent are Democrats and 18.6 percent are Republicans." The polls quoted in the article indicate where one should look for relevant electoral developments: "[T]wo polls released this week show Mr. Forrester with a slight lead among likely voters and an unusually high percentage of Democrats wavering." With only 43% of all New Jersey voters registered as either Democrats or Republicans, the most important questions in this race are: "Will independent voters turn from Mr. Torricelli because of his ethical problems and vote for the Republican, Mr. Forrester, instead" and "Will Democrats vote at all in the Senate race? In particular, will Mr. Torricelli's ethical problems cause a substantial number of Democrats not to vote at all in the Senate race?"

But the Times reporters don't talk to or even discuss the independents at all and they don't ask the "wavering" Democrats the pertinent question. Instead, voter after Democratic voter is quoted as ultimately coming out for Mr. Torricelli, either easily (“I'm not finding it a difficult choice ... Torricelli is not a warm and fuzzy guy, but that's not in my top criteria.") or after some hand wringing ("I have struggles with it," ... [I]n addition to the threat of war, "I'm concerned about the role of social services, about shortchanging our poor while rewriting the tax laws" to favor the wealthy). But these are hard-core Democrats. They are not likely to vote for the Republican challenger. So the Times is soliciting answers to a misleading question. Mr. Torricelli himself isn't wearing such blinders, since "the argument" is described as "a view that Mr. Torricelli would like more voters to take" - not just Democratic maybe-non-voters.

The article says: "The argument seems to play well in this town full of Democrats, which gave Mr. Torricelli 70 percent of the vote in 1996 and the new United States senator, Jon S. Corzine, 72 percent in 2000." Of course the argument "plays well" in such a town - if the voters are assumed to come out on election day. This is news? Further, the Times reporters knew before asking their questions that "the argument" would play better in such a town than in any other kind of town, but they stay exclusively in that environment. In fact, the polls suggest that turn-out may be poor among Democrats: "In the independent Quinnipiac University Poll, 29 percent of registered Democrats said they did not think that Mr. Torricelli had 'the honesty and integrity to serve effectively' as a senator. In the Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers Poll, only 50 percent of Democrats said they held a positive opinion of him, while 35 percent said they were reserving judgment." The Times has the polls, why not ask the questions the polls suggest?

The Times self-imposed restrictions allow it to paint a much more positive picture (although still not really positive) of Mr. Torricelli's position than would have been possible if the issue had been raised in its relevant political terms, as described above. But the Times failure to go beyond those restrictions suffuses this article with a delusional sense of denial. Although all the voters interviewed here decide one way or the other to vote for Mr.Torricelli, he is still trailing in the likely-voter polls.

UPDATE: Jane Galt focuses on the awful moral dimension of the Times story and its quotes from Democratic voters cynically choosing personally to vote for a corrupt man to represent them in the Senate. The Times reporters themselves fail to treat this dimension at all, as if they were interviewing Mary and Paul Bland just before dinner - and it's all no big deal.

FURTHER UPDATE: Things are so bad with Torricelli that Ted Barlow is agreeing with Jane!

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