Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hillary Clinton Is Stuck In A Poll-Deflating Feedback Loop

By Nate Silver

It’s the candidates who play the long game, and play by the establishment’s rules, who usually win presidential nominations. Political parties have lots of ways to influence the race in favor of these candidates, from how they appoint superdelegates to how they schedule debates. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on advertising, meanwhile, and the bulk usually favors establishment candidates. And voters have a lot of time to make their decisions and can amend them as they go along — an insurgent candidate who wins Iowa or New Hampshire won’t necessarily have staying power if they’ve failed to build a broad coalition of support.

The short run is different. The short run can be crazy. Feedback loops can produce self-reinforcing (but usually temporary) booms and busts of support. For instance, a candidate who has some initial spark of success, such as by doing well in a debate, can receive more favorable media coverage. That, in turn, can beget more success as voters jump on the bandwagon and his poll numbers go up further.

Candidates can just as easily get caught — or entrap themselves — in self-reinforcing cycles of negative media attention and declining poll numbers. Hillary Clinton looks like she’s stuck in one of these ruts right now.

The Washington Post’s David Weigel recently observed that voters were hearing about only three types of Clinton stories, all of which have negative implications for her. First are stories about the scandal surrounding the private email server she used as secretary of state. Next are stories about her declining poll numbers. And third are stories about how Vice President Joe Biden might enter the Democratic presidential race.1

Weigel isn’t exaggerating: For roughly the past two months, voters have heard almost nothing about Clinton apart from these three types of stories. I went through the archives of the news aggregation website Memeorandum, which uses an algorithm to identify the top U.S. news stories of the day. I tracked whether there was a Clinton-related headline in one of the top three positions at 11 a.m. each morning and, if so, what the subject was.2 You can see the results below:

(More here.)

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