The Oberlin Review

Media Dismisses Needs of Trump Voters

Ben Silverman, Contributing Writer

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Soon after election night wrapped up, while the U.S. grimaced and closed the book on the last year and a half, The New York Times issued a letter to its readers addressing the shock and confusion left in the wake of Nov. 8. It included a promise to “rededicate” the paper to the mission of reporting on the world honestly.

This letter was necessary. The projections by various media and research organizations, with the Times at the forefront, were in consensus about the likelihood of Hillary Clinton’s victory. Columnists and statistical projections in the Times and The Washington Post slammed Trump’s disorganized campaign while the beaten-down, discontented rural counties of the U.S. rumbled underneath.

The University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, one of the most accurate polls of the 2012 presidential election, was frequently deemed an outlier since it leaned Trump through almost the entire race. However, it was among the few major polls to pick up on the trends toward Trump that defined the race. The pollsters did not preselect likely voters from those who voted in past elections, but allowed a randomly sampled range of citizens to rate from 0 to 100 their likelihood of voting for a candidate, thus representing a greater range of potential voters, albeit with less accuracy.

By using this system, the Daybreak poll picked up on the large portion of Trump’s base that sat out the 2012 election, perhaps exactly those working-class voters who surged for Trump after not feeling represented by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. More importantly, the poll measured the intense enthusiasm that Trump’s supporters felt for their candidate, a signifier of their more reliable voting patterns.

It was this enthusiasm from discontented voters that ended up carrying the race; the hard-working, straight-shooting, Obama-voting, yet culturally rejected citizens of the Rust Belt cemented the significance of their discontentment by showing up in storm on Election Day. By simply respecting each voter’s say about their political convictions, even if it was just expressed as a number from 0 to 100, politicians and activists could have identified and appealed to Trump voters instead of pushing them further to the edges of politics.

It was ultimately the inability of the media, Clinton’s campaign and Democrats in general to relate to Trump voters that gave him the small boost he needed to sweep the rust-belt states. In November’s cover piece of Harper’s Magazine, Thomas Frank analyzed the “establishment” culture of The Washington Post and the allergy to populism found in most major newspapers (“Swat Team,” November 2016). On the culture of mainstream media organizations, Frank wrote, “They are, of course, a comfortable bunch. … When they look around at the comfortable, well-educated folks who work in government, academia, Wall Street, medicine, and Silicon Valley, they see their peers.”

Reporters and editors covering Trump were unable to translate the sentiment of the country to readers. Coverage often traded open-mindedness and objectivity for an injection of dogma based in the perspective of, for lack of a better term, elites.

These journalists hoped that they might better control the message they were sending, for the sake of the country, but those who really needed the message were already past the point of looking to the media for guidance. And who could blame them? There was no way for us to truly feel the toll that life takes on the patriotic, rural citizen surrounded by foreclosed factories and a country that feels more and more strange all the time. But I regret that I hardly tried.

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