Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Four Horsemen Of The Horse Race

Eric at Total Information Awareness has a great post here:

"There is a popular saying amongst the media-watchers and gadflys that the press
will cover four things during campaigns, what I call the Four Horsemen of the
Horse Race: scandals (pestilence), mistakes (death), attacks (war) and polls
(famine) - though not necessarily in that order. So far, the media coverage this
presidential season has involved a healthy dose of all four of these topics,
and, predictably, sparse treatment of anything else of greater heft, substance
or importance."
I keep coming back to his post again and again. I love the Four Horseman Metaphor and wish to spread the metaphor if I can...

Famine (Polls):

As Eric notes, the most-often-touted polls (e.g., CNN/Gallup, Newseek) are the most methodologically flawed.
See, for instance these articles:,0,5538561.column?coll=ny-ny-columnists!news

Even Zogby, who is trying his best to combine phone/online/mail polls does not completely trust his own polls. He is aware that even the best method leaves out a substantial (and highly specific) group of voters out of calculation, mainly young and poor (both of these groups are more likely to have a cell phone than a land line) or people who like Caller-ID, Call-blocking and other newer high-tech ways to avoid pollsters. You get old ladies on the phone (the oh-so-1980s urge to pick up the phone whenever it rings).

For a quit learning how to read a poll, pick one of the following sites:

What is more worrisome is that many of those high-profile polls were never meant to be surveys of the population. They are campaign tools. Schneider, and Luntz, and the boss at Gallup, and others are purposefully skewing the polls. They want the race to remain tight, or with a Bush lead until November 2nd. Why?

First, to de-energize Kerry supporters, especially soft ones. Many people "go for the winner" (witness how we got Kerry as candidate in the first place), like in the Asch experiment (
Second, if the polls indicate a tight race or small Bush lead, and Bush wins, there is no surprise and also no LEGAL way to ask for a recount. Thus, Diebold &Co. can do their part of the job. If polls showed a Kerry lead, but Bush wins, there is surely going to be legal grounds for recounts in several states.

There is an Action Item on Media Matters (, asking people to e-mail CNN and insist that Schneider comes out on air as Bush operative and Right Winger that he is. The same should be done for Luntz at MSNBC.

Death (Mistakes):

As Eric notes, nobody made a significant mistake yet. Both Bush and Kerry said some silly things (easily mocked in TV ads), or showed up in pictures in funny-looking suits, but no Dukakis/Snoopy-in-a-tank yet. There is not much one can do about this stuff. One can be super-vigilant to minimize tha chances of such a thing happening to your candidate, but these things just happen.

War (Attacks):

These are attacks by the candidates themselves on each other. VP-candidates count here, too, as well as official campaign representatives. There has been quite a lot of attacking lately, mainly by Cheney. As the Big Boys get the most media coverage, it is exceptionally important to do your framing right. I have to say that in thepast week or so, Kerry has improved a lot. He is not just attacking, he is attacking very well. He is taking BushCo frames and using them against Bush. Look at his recent speech (see: and for a good commentary): he is using even the famous "tax relief" Luntzism against Bush, not to mention making fun of "resolve", carefully and forcefully separating "war on terror" from "war in Iraq" (the mainstay of the Bush campaign), and in general framing his message in the way that resonates with voters.

"I have news for President Bush: Just because you can't do something doesn't mean it can't be done," is a devastating sentence. I was watching this over lunch in a neighborhood bar&grill and I jumped and shouted (with my mouth full, in spite of what my mother taught me):"Yes, yes, yes, this is great!!!". Waitresses agreed. They are all young single Kerryites and excited about being the uncounted, unpolled "surprise squadron".

Pestilence (Scandals) :

Eric writes:

"The many scandals have received an inordinate share of attention - the Swift
Boat Veterans for Un-Truth (who continue their slander even today), the Kerry
medal flap, CBS News' memogate, Bush's delinquent National Guard Service, and
more recently allegations of cocaine use by Bush at Camp David. This is best
understood as the politics of gossip over substance - but gossip sells and the
media is increasingly concerned with maximizing profits. A pestilence spreading
throughout our press."
This is where elections are won or lost. Republicans, especially of the Attwater/Rove lineage, are masters of gossip. They are fantastic at countering gossip against their candidates, fantastic at pushing and promoting gossip against the opponents, and completely unscrupulous about inventing scandals out of whole cloth and letting the whispering do the job. That is how they beat John McCain and Anne Richards, that is how they are trying to beat Kerry.

On the other hand, Democrats are woefully slow and inept at countering gossip. They feel it is dishonest and ungentlemanly to promote and push rumors, let alone invent new ones. They want to concentrate on the issues. And it always backfires. Isssues do not win elections.

Democrats naively believe that the truth will prevail. They should take a quote from Lakoff and post it on every wall of every campaign headquarters (instead of "It's the economy, stupid" which is not true in 2004 as it was in 1992):"Truth will not let you free". Facts do not matter. People believe or not believe facts depending on the way those resonate with their worldviews and ideologies, with the way they were raised, with the way they understand the world. They will dismiss facts if these do not fall within their framework. They will believe ridiculous stuff if this fits into the way they see themselves, the country and the world. That is why Democrats' duty #1 today is to read "Elephant" and "Moral Politics" and act accordingly. This election is too important to lose due to bad marketing.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 5:25 PM | permalink | (4 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink