In 2015, Harry Enten was one of the many astute prognosticators who assured America that Donald Trump would not be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. His story for 538.com titled “Why Donald Trump Isn’t A Real Candidate” helpfully explained in June 2015 that “Trump has a better chance of cameoing in another “Home Alone” movie with Macaulay Culkin — or playing in the NBA Finals — than winning the Republican nomination.”
After Trump secured the nomination, this reporter asked Enten about his failed prediction. Instead of just admitting he made a mistake, Enten initially insisted he never actually said Trump would not be the nominee.
For this election cycle, Enten, who graduated from Dartmouth fifteen minutes ago and is now at CNN “specializ[ing] in data-driven journalism,” is playing a similar game of wild speculation and chicanery with California Senator Kamala Harris—hypothesizing that she is a hot presidential prospect and then, to cover his tracks, pretending that subsequent polls that say otherwise don’t really matter.
On November 12, Enten and Chris Cillizza declared Harris the new Democratic frontrunner, even though she is utterly untested on the national stage and has about as much charisma as a dining room table (her delivery is flat and legalistic).
“Harris looks like the right fit for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary voter,” they wrote, piling speculation upon speculation. “Harris has been seen as a 2020 candidate since the day she announced she was running for the Senate. It now not only looks like she will make those expectations come true, but that she will start the race in a very strong position.”
On December 13, the duo listed her first again, rehashing their arguments.
The next day, CNN released a new nationwide poll that ranked her a distant fifth among prospective contenders, with support from just 4% of those surveyed. That followed another poll released December 15th of prospective Iowa caucus goers in which Harris also finished fifth, this time with 5% support.
With these kind of results you might think Enten would stop hyping Kamala Harris.
This week, Enten offered a new piece on CNN.com asserting that the poor poll results don’t really matter and insisting Harris is a top presidential prospect.
He then tried to make it sound like the polls don’t really matter because Harris has strong support among party activists.
But does she really?
“A look at the early signals in the endorsement part of the invisible primary, however, point to Harris as a force to be reckoned with in 2020.”
“Like public opinion polls, the endorsement primary suggests a contest that is still wide open. That’s not much of a surprise. We’re still more than a year away from the Iowa caucuses. Still, the endorsement primary will be important to keep an eye on it.”
“Candidates who receive a lot of endorsements from party actors (politicians, activists, etc.) tend to do well. Even six months out from Iowa, the candidate ahead in the endorsement primary has won 9 of last 14 presidential primaries without an incumbent running in it.
Without many actual endorsements to count, it’s a bit difficult to gauge where things might end up in 2020. There’s no real way to conduct the type of scientific poll we do for the public at large. We’re stuck reading tea leaves. Those tea leaves, though, suggest that Democratic activists seem most open to voting for someone like Harris at this point.”
“Iowa Democratic county chairpeople, for example, want a young person who hasn’t run for president before. That was the opinion of 43 of 76 county Iowa chairpeople asked by the Wall Street Journal. Harris, who is only 54 years old, received strong reviews compared to polling leaders like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.”
But wanting a younger candidate doesn’t necessarily translate as the above paragraph implies into support for Harris. It also leaves out the fact that the Wall Street Journal article reported enthusiasm among party officials for other young prospective candidates, such as Beto O’Rourke and Corey Booker.
Enten then insists an unscientific poll of party activists by a University of Denver professor shows significant support for Harris.
“A separate measure of the endorsement primary from political scientist Seth Masket finds similarly” in an article about his findings for Vox.com.
“Masket has been interviewing activists who have traditionally been involved in primary politics. Masket notes that the vast majority of them in Iowa and nationally he spoke to are uncommitted, and, of course, interviews of this nature are not guaranteed to be representative of the larger activist pool.
“Still, more Democratic activists from Iowa interviewed say they are open to considering Harris than any other candidate. In-line with the Wall Street Journal interviews, Masket’s interviewees placed young candidates Sen. Cory Booker second and Rep. Beto O’Rourke third for consideration.”
Actually, this was not “in-line” with the Wall Street Journal interviews. Party officials quoted by the paper did not rank the younger candidates in order of preference, as Enten’s wording suggests.
Enten then writes, “Nationally, Masket’s interviews reveal the breadth of potential Harris support. A majority of activists said they were considering backing her in the combined results from Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. No other candidate (of more than a dozen) is at this point receiving consideration from a majority of the activists asked.”
But considering supporting somebody is way different from actual support. It really doesn’t mean very much.
As Masket says in Vox but Enten does not quote, “We shouldn’t confuse this list” of consideration of support “with overall levels of support. Just because Kamala Harris is at the top doesn’t mean that most activists rank her as their favorite candidate. It simply means that more of them are considering her than anyone else. This is more a measure of breadth of support than depth.”
Enten also claims that Harris, who is half-Indian and half-black, has potentially strong support among minority women. “In a survey with women of color in politics (from elected officials to those who work at political organizations), Harris was the only candidate listed by a majority of respondents when asked to give their top three choices for 2020. O’Rourke placed a distant second for top three support. It’s hard to find a more important primary group than women of color.
“They are by far the most Democratic aligned major demographic group.”
But why didn’t Enten mention that Harris has a potentially huge liability among women voters because of sexual harassment charges against one of her top aides, which she claimed to know nothing about for two years?
Enten concludes his effort to nullify CNN’s own polling results with some caveats.
“Will the early positive signals for Harris in the endorsement primary end up leading to success when it comes to the actual primary next year? That’s impossible to say. Even if Harris eventually earns the endorsements from a plurality of activists, it’s no guarantee that voters will follow the activists’ lead.
“A Harris nomination makes a lot of sense though. The Democratic Party is becoming increasingly non-white and nominated women in record numbers in 2018. As Harris is the only women of color anywhere near the top tier for the 2020 Democratic nomination, it shouldn’t be surprising at all if she ends up winning.”
Enten did not respond to inquiries. But Masket told CaliforniaGlobe.com that the consideration many activists are according Harris doesn’t really count for squat at this point. “From my research, I can only say that a wide range of Democratic activists from across the early primary states say they are considering her. I don’t know how this will or won’t translate into endorsements or actual votes, but more people I spoke to named her as someone they’re considering than named anyone else.”
Meanwhile, Harris has said she’ll decide during the holiday season whether to run for President. So an announcement should be forthcoming.
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