If a poll falls in the forest ...
In a campaign season in which the Wisconsin news media have given prominent play to horse-race stories, and have fallen all over themselves to report on every poll to come along -- including many that deserved to be ignored -- how do you explain this:
A professional statewide poll, which asked objective questions on the governor's race, issues of concern to Wisconsinites, and people's views of media coverage of the issues, was totally ignored when it was released this past week.
The survey, sponsored by One Wisconsin Now, was done Oct. 9-12 with a sample of 708 voters by Abacus Associates, a national survey research firm. The sample size and neutral questions asked make it more reliable than most of the polls which have been publicly released and reported on during this campaign. Unlike some of the others, these pollsters actually interviewed real, live people on the telephone.
In a series of releases, OWN rolled out the results:
Health care is the top issue on voters' minds. Voters believe the issue has gotten far too little coverage by the media during the campaign.
Doyle leads Green by 6% in governor's race, and one reason is that he is seen as more likely to deal with health care issues.
Universal health care reform has broad support.
Voters are unhappy with the legislature's record on health care.
There was some interesting material in the findings, not the least of which was the public's assessment of which issues have gotten too little attention, and which have gotten too much. That's contained in this memo, one of several released by OWN.
John Kraus, OWN'S executive director, is experienced at media relations, having handled communications for a number of statewide political campaigns and officeholders, from Libby Burmaster to Russ Feingold. He's handled press for presidential candidates in Wisconsin. In short, he knows how the media works and how to sell a story. This one should have sold itself. But there were no buyers.
OWN's releases went to more than 200 members of the Wisconsin media every day last week, and to several national political blogs and websites.
And the stories that resulted? Zero.
Even the horse race question on the governor's race did not get a mention, except for a Journal Sentinel blog. Even WisPolitics.com, which thrives on all things political, took a pass.
[UPDATE: WisPolitics says I'm full of beans, or full of something. WisPol had the horse race item on its front page, and carried it as the second item in Wednesday's PM Update to subscribers, although that's a limited audience.]
So how to explain it?
One Wisconsin Now is a new kid on the block. But it was treated like a serious player in the policy debate when it made its debut, with a major story in the Journal Sentinel, among other notice. And there have been plenty of published reports about polls by firms I've never heard of before, so that can't be it.
OWN has a point of view. It's progressive (OK, say liberal if you must). But the conservative bent of organizations like the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute hasn't prevented WPRI's studies, reports and polls from getting prominent coverage. So that must not be it, either. After all, we all know about the media's leftish slant.
Was it because the very first release said that voters think the media are neglecting issues like health care and writing too much about Georgia Thompson?
If you're waiting for an insightful answer, or even a good conspiracy theory, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I am truly puzzled.
I am more curious than anything else about how and why this could happen. The findings of that survey could, perhaps, have added something to the final weeks of debate -- and perhaps even to the final weeks of campaign coverage. It's a missed opportunity, and I can't imagine why it was missed.