Recent reporting on Democratic-run polling and anonymous “Republican operatives” is misleading at best. Read headlines with caution over the next two weeks.
Brandon Presley’s biggest media ally wants Republicans to know they should be afraid. Alarmed even.
On Monday, Mississippi Today Editor-in-Chief and political columnist Adam Ganucheau ran a headline which read, “New governor’s race poll shows Reeves leading Presley by just one point.”
Of course, the headline omits who ran the poll: the Democratic Governors Association. Yes, the same Democratic Governors Association that has pumped at least $3.75 million into Presley’s campaign.
But don’t worry. It’s totally objective.
That the DGA says their chosen horse is within striking distance is probably not indicative of much. Their polling, after all, is the functional equivalent of an internal poll. Internal polls are historically pretty unreliable.
Some of those caveats eventually appear far below the misleading headline–a headline that could have just as easily, and more transparently, said, “Democratic poll shows Reeves leading Presley by just one point.”
But even more telling than the headline’s neutral framing of an overtly partisan poll is what is absent in the reporting–any mention of legitimate public polling that has been conducted in recent months.
Mississippi Today, itself, commissioned a poll by Siena College at the end of August that had Reeves up by 11 points on Presley. The poll was the latest in a long series of surveys that had been run with Siena and published throughout 2023. None have been published since.
Magnolia Tribune commissioned a poll by Mason-Dixon earlier this month that showed Reeves up by 8 points head-to-head with Presley. Print and television outlets throughout the state covered the poll, from the Clarion Ledger and Sun Herald to WLBT, WJTV and WLOX. National polling and political outfits like Real Clear Polling, 538, and Cook Political Report also picked it up.
Mason-Dixon has been polling Mississippi since 1987, was within 2 points on the governor’s race in 2019, and has an A- rating with over 440 polls analyzed at 538. But no mention of that poll from the same outlet that has legitimized polling from the DGA, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Presley’s internal pollster during the campaign season.
It’s certainly possible that the race has tightened. But leaving out legitimate data points to bolster a partisan poll feels a lot like an agenda.
Today’s Mississippi Today headline reads, “Republican operatives sound every alarm on current trajectory of 2023 governor’s race.” Not just one alarm, mind you. Not even two or three. Every alarm. Like one of those old movie scenes where a nuclear power plant melts down.
At the start of his missive, Ganucheau says, “it might not surprise Mississippians that The Cook Political Report, regarded as one of the nation’s preeminent elections experts, shifted their 2023 Mississippi governor’s race forecast on Monday in Democrat Brandon Presley’s direction.”
Setting aside the likelihood of Mississippians’ surprise, upon reading this paragraph, the impression left was that Cook was now predicting a Presley victory. I scurried over to Cook to find out. Alas, they are not. They are still predicting a Republican win in Mississippi’s race for governor.
Cook’s “shift” was from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.” They now have the race in the same column as Reeves’ 2019 race against former Attorney General Jim Hood–a race Reeves won by 5 points.
Cook’s change could be noteworthy if presented directly. Ganucheau eventually acknowledges that what he meant by the race being forecast “in Democrat Brandon Presley’s direction” was Cook’s move to “leans Republican,” only this acknowledgment occurs eight paragraphs down from his original framing.
But back to the headline. Who are these Republican operatives sounding all the alarms? We do not know. They are anonymous.
What did they say? Well, one said Presley has run a disciplined campaign. He has. The campaign has been very on message throughout. But it is possible to simultaneously think someone has run a decent campaign and that they will still lose.
A second anonymous source pointed out that Presley had been able to raise a lot of money and put those resources to use on television. That’s factual. Early in this race, I mentioned that Presley’s only chance would be a massive influx of cash to build name ID. He’s been able to secure big dollars from out-of-state Democrats, though his name ID is still lagging.
The same anonymous source also raised questions about Tate Reeves’ likability. The “Jackson politico bubble” has made the “likability” claim against Reeves in every race since he was State Treasurer.
While it is possible public sentiment has turned, five statewide elections won might suggest that the anonymous operative is wrong about Reeves’ likability. Or that the Governor is at least likable enough. Or…pause…that likability is overrated relative to what a politician actually believes and his core competency to get the job done.
This “operative” also mentioned turnout concerns. Turnout is always key in any election, regardless of party affiliation. We will find out in the coming weeks what kind of “get out the vote” or “GOTV” apparatus both campaigns have built. But there are turnout concerns on both sides of this race.
Presley has to have high enough turnout to overcome a Republican brand that has dominated this state for the last two decades. He has to do so in an environment with almost no competitive down ballot races for Democrats–one in which Democrats did not even field candidates for a supermajority of legislative seats. Fewer local races can negatively impact up ballot turnout.
Presley also needs African American turnout to mirror Barack Obama’s presidential runs, something no white Democratic candidate has been able to pull off, and he needs a good number of Republican defectors to boot. It remains a challenging environment.
Regardless, two anonymous “Republican operatives” making observations to imply a competitive race does not “sounding every alarm” make.
It’s possible to make a point about the competitiveness of the governor’s race without being sensational or misleading.
Be cautious when reading partisan headlines over the next couple of weeks.
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