Friday, November 2, 2007

Truman Upsets Dewey in Presidential Election - November 2, 1948

In an interesting turn of events, incumbent Harry S Truman defeated Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York for the office of President.

This election was an extremely close contest – Truman eked by Dewey with a little more than 2 million votes, out of a total of almost 49 million cast. However, this election shows more about current practices of the press than it does about the electoral system.

Two issues have presented themselves in this contest: the method of public opinion polling is flawed, and editorial decisions need to be made more carefully.

As a member of the press myself, I am naturally hesitant to criticize my fellow tradesmen. However, given the culmination of poor polling practices in an incredibly embarrassing headline printed by the Chicago Tribune, I am prompted to do so.

The press has a responsibility to report the news to the population as soon as information is available. The operative phrase here is “as soon as information is available,” which, it seems, my colleagues at the Tribune have failed to remember. The headline was determined long before millions of votes had been reported; at the time of publication, it was much too early to determine a clear winner.

I can understand that, given the results the Tribune’s editors had at their fingertips when they made the decision to call the election, as well as the trends reported in the polls over the course of the campaign, it seemed as if they had made a fool-proof decision to scoop all other newspapers across the nation.

However, the American people are a fickle group, and often behave in unpredictable ways. Therefore I believe the editors were behaving irresponsibly when they made the decision to view the early election results as definitive, especially through the lenses of faulty public polls.

It is clear that these polls were biased toward the more affluent, who historically tend to vote Republican, and would therefore support Dewey. In addition, many reports indicate that polls were no longer being conducted a few weeks prior to the election, which means should there have been increasing public support for Truman, it would have been missed.

The press has a responsibility to report accurate, unbiased coverage. By using polls blindly and making editorial decisions quickly instead of carefully, the press has indeed failed the people today.

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