Media critics and news critics in particular have long lamented “horse-race” coverage of political races and elections. This is coverage that focuses on who will win a race to the exclusion of what it would mean for the electorate to be governed by each candidate. In its purest form, horse-race coverage is represented by Nate Silver’s poll tracking and predictions.
In its more common form, horse-race coverage is most of what we see leading up to an election. It is “X candidate is speaking in Y region of the state today. No candidate since 1983 has carried the state without carrying Y” instead of reporting on the concerns of the population in region Y and how they complement or compete with the interest of the rest of the population. It is “X will be speaking on Y issue today. In a recent poll, Z% of voters supported X’s position Y. What remains unknown is whether X’s position on Y will help to broaden their base” instead of reporting on the probable effects of passing the candidate’s policy proposal.
Horse-race coverage is the junk reporting on what a candidate wears, how charismatic they are, their campaign strategy, their campaign manager’s thoughts on their chances, and on and on and on. It is, in fact, most of what you see in an election season.
–Stephanie Zvan explains what’s wrong with political reporting (and why you shouldn’t let it affect your voting).