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Voters v. Media: a concerning result

The MSNBC evening lineup gave a fair amount of play tonight to a couple of results from the new NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll. This was sort of like a non-partisan push poll: voters were read a series of nine negative statements — three for each of the three remaining candidates — and asked about their level of concern on each one.

MSNBC spent most of their time focusing on two of these issues — what I call “Obama/bitter” (his recent comments on religion and guns) and “Obama/values” (his associations with Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers). You might assume, from having seen the programming, that these were the foremost concerns to their poll respondents. But of course they weren’t.

Below, I have translated their polling results to a Likert Scale, where 1 represents “No Real Concern” and 4 represents a “Major Concern”.

Judged by this metric, “Obama/bitter” and “Obama/values” rank just fifth and sixth on the list, respectively. Instead, the issue that concerns the voters the most is “Clinton/flip-flops”. That is followed by two McCain issues — his closeness with George W. Bush and his own flip-flops (to its credit, MSNBC did report the Bush result on air) — and then another Clinton (“Clinton/honesty”) before we get to the first two Obama issues. Meanwhile, the two issues that strike me as unambiguously being cheap shots — “McCain/age” and “Obama/patriotism” — are of very little concern to voters.

If you had to rank these nine issue in terms of how much attention the media has given to them recently, what would that result look like? My guess is something like:

1. Obama / values (6)
2. Clinton / Bill (7)
(tie) Obama / bitter (5)
(tie) Clinton / honesty (4)
5. McCain / age (8)
6. McCain / Bush (2)
(tie) Clinton / flip-flops (1)
(tie) Obama / patriotism (9)
9. McCain / flip-flops (3)

Of course, this is a subjective exercise, and my judgments about where the media has been spending its time could be wrong (I really think the week I did the best job of political analysis was the week that my cable was broken). But from what I can tell, there is actually something of an inverse relationship between those issues the media has spent the most time focusing on, and those that are of the most concern to voters in the media’s own polling.

Not that this is breaking any news.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.