Polls, politics and the press

Our job is to provide you with information. We learn, investigate, study and report to our readers online and in the print edition.

Take the story in Wednesday’s Daily Republic on a new poll by a Sioux Falls firm that shows former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin with a large lead over Rep. Kristi Noem in a rematch of their 2010 race.

The Nielson Brothers Polling survey showed SHS leading Noem 58 to 37 percent, with 5 percent undecided. We reported the story on our website Tuesday night and offered a longer, more detailed report in the paper and online Wednesday.

It’s the latest in a series of stories on the Nielson Brothers Polling‘s efforts to become a legitimate, respected polling firm. It’s a story we continue to cover, unlike other media.

Are the numbers correct? Who knows? They surprised even the pollsters. Do I believe such a gap exists after Kristi beat Stephanie (as almost everyone refers to them) 48-46 in 2010? It seems unlikely.

Do you have a right to know about this poll? Of course you do.

So far, most South Dakota news outlets are not reporting the results of the poll. Other leading newspapers who try to cover state politics are passing on the poll, as are TV stations and other outlets.

The Sioux City Journal has written a blog on it and a few websites have touched on it. South Dakota Public Radio’s noon show touched on it Wednesday, as Daily Republic Editor Seth Tupper and Kevin Woster of the RC Journal discussed my story.

Dakota War College, which proclaims its GOP leanings atop its page, has assailed the poll.

There seems to be two reasons few SD media outlets are covering the story. First, Nielson Brothers Polling is a new firm, and it was way off on the 2010 governor’s race, indicating it was a horse race to the end while everyone else polling and covering the race saw it as a blowout for Dennis Daugaard.

In the end, NBP called the race for Daugaard but their numbers in the race hurt them.

What’s forgotten, or is being ignored, is that in the Noem-SHS race, the firm’s final poll said Noem had a 2 point lead. She won by that exact margin.

Even more impressive was the fact that NBP said independent B. Thomas Marking would get 6 percent. He did.

But the damage was done, at least in the eyes on the SD media. We rolled our eyes at the poll then, and I did a story last year on the polling firm and its goals.

Of course, other polling errors have occurred in our state and some were way off. In 1994, when Kevin Woster and I wrote for the Argus, we ran a banner headline atop Page 1 just a few days before the GOP primary saying Walter Dale Miller had a double-digit lead on Bill Janklow.

Well, Janklow won big. The poll was about 30 points off and had the wrong winner.  I know for a fact Janklow was very upset and a lot of people wondered about the paper’s credibility.

Does that mean Argus polls should forever be ignored?

The other factor has been a determined effort by the South Dakota GOP to persuade the media not to cover the poll. We received the messages and I know the rest of the state’s media did.

Unlike these other journalists, we decided to run our own newsroom and trust our readers. We provided a story that offered all sides and let the readers make their minds up themselves.

Press aides and political leaders pressure the media a lot, and also sweet talk reporters, editors and TV anchors. With some, it works. Believe me, Herseth Sandlin’s staff did it as well.

It comes from both sides, but reporters and editors are supposed to know better.

Look at another news report that came out Wednesday. Noem was given an award for promoting ethanol, a press release from her office stated. The Daily Republic got it; I edited the release and we will use it, with a clear label that it came from her office.

The Rapid City Journal placed the slightly revised press release online and credited “Journal Staff.” KSFY published a “news story” and Tim Peters actually put his name on this handout.

Others are doing it as well. Beats working, I guess. I spent two weeks on the NBP stories we have published.

Of course, none of these outlets reported the SHS-Noem poll or offered insight into what it may mean. That would take work, experience and insight. It’s better to take a handout and put your name on it and not worry about displeasing the people who spoon-feed you.

Tell me who is actually reporting the news.

While we’re on the subject, tell us who you support now, 13 1/2 months before the 2012 election, in our poll.

9 thoughts on “Polls, politics and the press

  1. I will give you some serious credit Denise for standing up to the candidates. I have grown really tired of J Ellis at the Argus kissing up to Noem and same with Montgomery at the RCJ since he was slammed by Lauck and Shields for what they thought was an intentional slam on Thune back during the last election. They whipped Montgomery into a toy they can play with now.

    Woster seems pretty straight forward but for goodness sakes Ellis at the Argus is as boring a reporter as you can find. He seems to basically want a quote and no follow up.

  2. I feel the need to weigh in here and say, “Me, too!” to Tom’s grousing about other media outlets not clearly labeling news releases as such. One of the many things I have so appreciated about the MDR since I signed on a few months ago is how they handle news releases – they run those with legitimate news after some minor editing and label them as news releases.
    In this age of news abundance, readers/viewers/listeners value transparency very highly. Too many media outlets still operate under the old “scarcity” model, believing they are the only or one of a handful of news sources for their audience. Not so.

        • I am noting the lack of effort and ethics on the part of professionals.
          Putting a byline on a press release is deplorable, almost as bad as not reporting honestly and fairly. And it seems to be getting more and more common.
          It is hard but honest work.
          I appreciate the support, DR.

  3. You have pointed out what almost every newspaper is nowadays. A compilation of press releases.
    Tom, excellent work providing readers with the NB info.

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