In the year and a half after the 2016 election, much of the media has continued to play its favorite sport: predicting and analyzing the candidates for the next presidential election.
Articles such as “36 people who could challenge Trump in 2020,” “The top 15 Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2020, ranked” and the “2020 Democratic primary, as a March Madness bracket” have become commonplace.
I’ll admit it, these stories are fun. I’ve read my fair share of them, as they appeal to the political junkie in me. But they’re also extremely damaging.
First off, predictions about the upcoming presidential election distract from the issues that are impacting people’s lives now, such as access to health care and reforming the immigration system. But they are also extremely premature. The 2018 midterms haven’t even passed yet, and most presidential hopefuls won’t be announcing their candidacies for another year or so. Yet, many media outlets began incessantly ranking potential candidates soon after the conclusion of the 2016 election.
In addition, history shows that the media isn’t very good at analyzing or predicting presidential elections. While, for the most part, journalists correctly identify which candidates are running, their rankings of those candidates are often wildly inaccurate. Most viewed Hillary Clinton as the favorite over Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary. Obama won. In 2016, many dismissed presidential candidate Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as fringe candidates until they weren’t and envisioned a Clinton-Jeb Bush general election until it became clear that no one outside the Beltway liked “please clap” Jeb Bush. Given the media’s poor track record in analyzing and predicting the success of presidential candidates before the election, it’s irresponsible for journalists to continue to do so when it’s clear that the electorate’s opinions can’t be encompassed in an 800-word listicle.
But perhaps most importantly, the ranking and analysis of presidential candidates long before an election is another example of the continued sportification of political journalism. Too much contemporary reporting focuses on horse race coverage — who’s winning and who’s losing on a given day or week. Instead of portraying politics as a serious business that can have grave ramifications on people’s lives, sport-like coverage treats politics like an amusing and entertaining pastime, which it very clearly is not.
The media has a responsibility to the public. And even though some, including me, are entertained by articles predicting the 2020 election, that doesn’t mean these stories are good for the public or that they should continue.