So why do reporters keep reaching to assign significance to these races, even as they acknowledge it may not be there? Any answer to that question is itself speculative, but here’s one idea: it just makes politics more fun. Much as sports fans create extra meaning for games by seeing every choke or victory in moral terms, political journalists make elections more meaningful by threading them into a broader narrative. (This process is facilitated by political consulting companies who have an interest in hyping minor races, as seems to have occurred with the Michigan state Senate race.) The political junkies who read these stories, of course, have all the same incentives to divine broader meaning. But when journalists warn about over-analysis of these races, they’re right—even if they go on to do the overanalyzing themselves.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.