Jan 26

Press keeps pushing bogus voter focus groups

Pointless bull sessions

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Looking for additional ways to pile on President Joe Biden, more news outlets have turned to focus groups in recent weeks. Rounding up tiny numbers of voters and treating their utterances as sacrosanct, the media aggressively push the idea that “moderate” and “independent” voters have universally turned on Biden, even though the findings from the bull sessions are not statistically relevant.

The poorly thought out focus group featured on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” included a grand total of six people who were identified as three Biden voters and three Trump voters. But all of them sounded like Trump voters.

The Biden voters interviewed by CBS were completely unsupportive of him, blaming the president for “Covid fatigue” and misleading the public about the virus. “I think that things are just as bad as they were when the pandemic started,” stressed one “Biden voter.” Added another: “COVID has not improved. Biden has not, you know, stuck to any of his promises.” The third Biden voter blamed him for the high price of bacon today.

In CBS’s aired focus group, not one person uttered a word of support for the president, who in the latest Fox News poll has a 47 percent approval rating.

At the New York Times, its recent focus group consisted of 14 “independent” voters, none of whom think Biden can improve the economy, even though a record 6.4 million new jobs were created during his first term. One of the so-called Biden supporters complained that Democrats (!) are trying to change election laws because they can’t win fair contests on their own.

Meanwhile, here’s how longtime Republican operative Frank Luntz led the conversation among “independent” voters as the moderator for the Times focus group: “Raise your hands if you agree with that statement, that this is the lowest point in your lifetime.” [emphasis added]

No loaded questions there, folks.

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More oddities from the Times focus group, which confirmed the “independent” voters they assembled did not reflect the country at large: Luntz asked 14 participants who they’d vote for in a hypothetical presidential match-up, Biden, Trump, or West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. An overwhelmingly majority said Manchin, even though in the real world a strong plurality of Americans have no idea who Manchin is.

In a long article about Biden’s supposed failed presidency this month, the Washington Post touted a focus group of “10 suburban women swing voters.” The Post highlighted them because the women said unflattering things about Biden. (“Old.” “Incoherent.” “Lazy.”)  But who were the women? Had they voted for Trump in the past? Was there any ethnic diversity among them? The Post, too enthralled by comments made by ten random voters, didn’t care.

On Twitter, McClatchy’s White House correspondent Alex Roarty went into great detail about a focus group he watched which featured ten “moderate” voters. He stressed the session produced very little good news for Democrats, even though Roarty provided no information about the ten voters, or why people should read significance into what they said considering this is a country of 160 million voters.

Focus groups can be useful for understanding public policy — when they’re done right. When Pew Research recently wanted to take the temperature regarding globalization, they hosted 26 separate focus groups around the world. That’s not what news outlets have been doing recently, though.

Not only are the media sessions too small and too infrequent, they’re also set up all wrong. Focus groups are designed to record extended reactions that a small group of participants have when they experience something together. Focus groups are meant to gauge the response to a specific stimulus.

For instance, gathering moderate and swing voters and have them watch Biden’s recent press conference or his upcoming State of Union speech and then recording their impressions would be a helpful way to use focus groups in the political arena; to find out what voters liked and what they didn’t like about something they just experienced. What focus groups are not designed to do is to gauge opinion of a small group of people who are asked, “Tell us how you feel about X,” without experiencing X in that group.

That’s why focus groups are used most often for product research and branding — consumers are shown a specific product, given information about it, and then asked to share their opinions about it. That’s not what’s happening with these Biden focus groups, which is why the results are such a mess. But the press loves the results because they’re producing content they want — voters say Biden is “lazy”! It’s basically voters repeating back to the press all the narratives that the press has been emphasizing about Biden for the last six months. (Media: They’re so perceptive!) It’s a convenient closed loop.

These recent focus groups have also been a fountain of misinformation, which moderators don’t correct because they see their jobs of facilitating a conversation, not fact-checking participants. That means in the “Face the Nation” focus group, a Trump voter  was able to announce that her weekly grocery bill under Biden had “doubled,” even though grocery store prices are up 7 percent over the last year, not 100 percent. Another participant claimed it takes “12 days” to get results from at-home Covid testing kits, when the results are known within minutes.

Rounding up a handful of random, “independent” voters who echo GOP talking points isn’t as insightful as the press thinks it is.

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GOOD STUFF:

I did not see this coming. And good for him.

From CBS’s “Neil Young Threatens to Leave Spotify Over Vaccine Misinformation”:

Neil Young had a strong message for Spotify on Monday: "They can have Rogan or Young. Not both." The 76-year-old rocker apparently doesn't want to share a platform with Joe Rogan, whose podcast, "The Joe Rogan Experience" has an exclusive deal with Spotify and has frequently spread false information about COVID-19.

Rogan has famously questioned COVID-19 vaccines on his show, and when he got COVID-19 last year, said he took ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug that's been heavily promoted on social media despite having no proven benefit against COVID-19. 

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FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

The Temptations, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”

I actually saw this clip on TV this week as I was scrolling by MeTV, which airs old Ed Sullivan shows. This episode from January 1969, when this single hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, was playing and it reminded me of what an iconic, but often overlooked, Motown classic this was for the Temptations.

“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1966 and reached No. 88 on the charts. It was Eddie Kendricks’ signature falsetto that transformed the song into a run-away hit.

Look here, my love is strong, you see
I know you'll never get tired of me, oh baby
And I'm gonna use every trick in the book
I'll try my best to get you hooked, hey baby
And every night, every day
I'm gonna say

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