Alas, There Weren’t Any

Yesterday, ABC News ran a piece on the Missouri referendum to ban gay marriage by amending the state’s constitution. ABC identified this vote as an important forecast of the presidential election and pointed out Missouri’s status as a battleground state, with its eleven electoral votes up for grabs.

No, wait. ABC did not mention the number of Missouri’s electoral votes. Nor did it mention the margin by which the gay marriage ban was passed. Nor did it tell us the percentage of voters that turned out for the vote, nor how that percentage compared with recent years, nor what the turnout for the November election is expected to be, nor whether any difference between the gay ban turnout and the expected presidential election turnout could affect how the Show Me State votes in November.

A Knight-Ridder news service story does a better job characterizing the Missouri vote, but it too fails to fully round out the numbers. So the gay marriage ban was passed by an overwhelming majority of 71 percent to 29 percent, and the voter turnout was a full 400,000 higher than expected. That helps. But the story still fails to tell the reader exactly what the turnout numbers were or what the numbers for the general election are expected to be. Given the lack of this knowledge, several of the newspapers that ran the Knight-Ridder story took a logical leap, and chose headlines that indicate, just as ABC News did, that this vote bodes well for Bush in November (Cape Cod Times: “Anti-gay surge seen helping Bush re-election;” The [South Carolina] State: “Missouri votes to ban gay marriage; issue could help Bush in November”) — even though the story itself includes nothing related to the presidential election and no direct analysis of how exactly this vote will help Bush, if at all — given the probability that even the higher-than-expected turnout for the Missouri primary election was still well below the expected turnout on November 2. With Bruce Springsteen and the Dixie Chicks planning a progressive voter rock-a-thon in Missouri in October, along with every other new voter registration initiative underway (Hip Hop Summit, Smackdown Your Vote, Reggie the Rig, et al.), is it even possible to accurately predict what the voter turnout will be in Missouri or anywhere else on November 2?

With ten states due to vote on measures similar to Missouri’s on or before November 2, the gay marriage question seems likely to continue to dog Kerry supporters and rally Bush voters.

Let’s hope the coverage of these future referenda has some numbers attached to it — and perhaps even a little foresight of the sort that tackles instead of ignores the tough questions.

—James Higdon

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

James Higdon is writing a book about the marijuana industry in Kentucky.