Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.
This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.
Here’s an interesting piece of intelligence that may have an impact on the spin of today’s special Senate election in Massachusetts: no exit polls. In a post on the New York Times’s political blog The Caucus, reporters Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny lament the absence of pollsters blanketing the state in order to give political junkies data to chew on in the aftermath of the voting. According to Zeleny, “There are no exit polls, of course, because no one anticipated this special election would turn into a real race — from the television networks that pay for the exit polls to Democratic leaders in Washington who will suffer if Martha Coakley loses. So without them, we will be left to rely on anecdotal information.”
While the Timesmen play it close to the vest on the looming prospect of a monumental Republican upset of what had been considered as safe a Democratic seat as there was in the country, the lack of polling data about why the voters are abandoning the party of the Kennedys could be significant as the party in power contemplates what went wrong. Even if Martha Coakley pulls victory from the jaws of defeat, the fact that a GOP win is a distinct possibility must be seen as an ominous sign for the Democrats. As inaccurate and misleading as exit polls can be, such a survey conducted in Massachusetts today might give us more of an idea about the motivations of voters, as well as the level of defections from the Democrats and the way independents are moving toward the Republicans.
Even more to the point, the absence of polling data — even with a dramatic shift in the only poll that actually counts — might also help keep the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress in denial about the unpopularity of their radical domestic programs. Some on the Left are actually suggesting that they might seek to delay Scott Brown’s certification or swearing in while ObamaCare is hustled through the Congress before the Democrats lose their filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate. So it’s clear that the notion put forward by wise men such as Fox News’s Brit Hume that a Coakley defeat will be an opportunity for them to step back from the left-wing precipice may be a piece of good advice that the Obama administration will not heed.
The absence of exit-polling data will give the spinmeisters on the cable networks less to jaw about, even though a Republican win or even a close race will provide all the information we actually need to understand the wave of dissatisfaction and frustration with the administration that is sweeping across the country. But it may leave some of the chattering classes wondering, like the old saw about a tree falling in the forest with no one to see or hear it: if an election is held without exit polls, does it really count?