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How Were The Polls So Wrong?


Throughout the program, we're checking in with people we've spoken with before about how they're thinking about this presidential election and how the country moves forward. President-elect Donald Trump has openly clashed with the media and made it clear he didn't believe the polls upon which many media organizations rely. After the election, the nation learned that he was right about that. Many of the polls were off.

Farai Chideya has been thinking about how the polls and journalists fell short. Farai is a longtime journalist working in both print and broadcast media. She's also nice enough to fill in for me on occasion. Throughout this election, she's been working as a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight. That's a website that many consider the authority on political polling analysis. Farai, welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us.

FARAI CHIDEYA: Hey. How are you?

MARTIN: So the morning after the election, you wrote an extensive and really thoughtful Facebook post reflecting upon how you saw the election, how you covered it and saying that you were both right and wrong. Tell us more about that please.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. I mean, I had been up most of 48 hours. I did FiveThirtyEight then I was on and off ABC's digital broadcast stream for several hours, did some reporting on the street. And one of the things that I really kept repeating when people asked me to sort of step into a pundit role was Donald Trump can't win without women and people of color. Therefore, he can't win the election. I was right about number one and wrong about number two because white women voted for Donald Trump and enough people of color voted for Donald Trump, so them plus the overwhelming majority of white men added up to a victory in the Electoral College.

MARTIN: You know, I've heard this from so many journalists that the media has a lot to account for in this election.

CHIDEYA: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: And you've heard all kinds of criticism from really across the political spectrum. What's your take on that? How in your view did the media fall short?

CHIDEYA: First of all, you can't cover this election from an office chair. The only way to really understand how people think and feel is to talk to them. Media economics no longer favors field reporting. Local newspapers are shutting down. Local TV stations are focused on crime and ratings. If we want better elections, we also need better media.

And the Shorenstein Center analyzed media and found that until Super Tuesday, Donald Trump was covered like a celebrity, not a candidate which means that every Republican who wanted to vote for someone besides Donald Trump had the scales weighted against them. They could not read enough about or figure out what was going on in the race because we did not do a good job collectively. I mean, I'm sure across the country there's great journalists doing great work, but in aggregate, we did not serve voters well.

MARTIN: Before we let you go and thanks for talking with us while you're remaining on deadline yourself, can you talk about how what you learned during this election will inform your reporting going forward?

CHIDEYA: Well, to be honest - and I know this sounds weird - I don't know how much more reporting I'm going to do. I've been in this business 26 years. I may not leave, but I'm really focused on looking at the legacy of American media as part of a thriving democracy. And that's my number-one priority. Whatever else I do - we'll see.

MARTIN: That's Farai Chideya. She's a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight. That's a website that focuses on politics and polling analysis. She was nice enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Farai Chideya, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CHIDEYA: Thanks, Michel. It is always my honor. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.