Finding the Front-Runner

The obsession with horse-race coverage

 While there has always been a tendency towards horse-race coverage, the numerous candidates running in the GOP primary has led to a media obsession with horse-race coverage. In the past week, there has been a media frenzy regarding the GOP candidates after the third Republican debate last Wednesday.

On each of the major news outlets, their main stories involved horse-race coverage. NBC News posted “NBC/WSJ Poll: Carson Surges Into Lead of National GOP Race”. Huffington Post also posted an article about Ben Carson leading the polls. The Washington Post about how Jeb Bush plans to come back in the polls. Meanwhile MSNBC was literal in their horse-race coverage metaphor, as they said, “Why Ben Carson isn’t just your new GOP front-runner; he’s a strong GOP front-runner: That’s our takeaway from our new NBC/WSJ poll. Not only is Carson leading the Republican horse race with the highest percentage yet in our poll (29%), he also hits 50% when you combine GOP voters’ first and second choices — the only Republican presidential candidate to do that.”

Nevertheless, the horse-race coverage media obsession with the GOP candidates, and the 2016 election in general does not stop there. CNN has personified the horse-race coverage with their Political Prediction Market. Through this interactive online market, users can create an account, make predictions, maximize gains and earn points, all by playing the odds. Starting to sound a lot like a trip to the horse races now?

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This site lists Marco Rubio as having the highest odds of becoming the republican presidential nominee at 41%. Meanwhile, the poll front-runner, Ben Carson, is in second place with only 15% odds that he will become the Republican presidential nominee.

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The site even displays a leaderboard with the accounts most successful in playing their political odds.

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Is our obsession with identifying a front-runner and constant news updates about poll results hindering informed citizenry? Is the news actually providing political insights and the tools to select a candidate or are they covering candidates that a small survey of people has deemed the front-runner?

In my opinion, horse-race media coverage, especially in the form of CNN’s Political Predication Market, trivializes the gravity of selecting a presidential candidate. This coverage is also detracting from the idea of informed citizenry. Many average citizens might know where Ben Carson or Donald Trump falls in the polls or in the public eye; however, they may have no clue as to the policies these candidates stand for. While horse-race coverage has been a long time trend, now reaching new heights, it is definitely a mechanism to draw readership. Therefore, I think publications need to find a line between poll coverage and policy coverage so that they are fulfilling their role as the fourth branch of government and the tool for informed citizenry.

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