THE MEDIA POLLSTERS
ON OCTOBER 4, 1988, the day before the second and final debate between George Bush and Michael Dukakis, Peter Jennings opened the ABC evening news program with a devastating assessment of Dukakis' chances for winning the election. As a color-coded map of the United States appeared on screen, Jennings announced that based on polls conducted in all fifty states, the ABC / Washington Post poll showed the Republican candidate with a virtual lock on the electoral college. Among the electoral votes "firmly" committed to either candidate, Bush led 220 to 30. Among those that were "leaning," Bush led 180 to 59. Thus, overall Bush was ahead 400 to 89, Jennings reported, a landslide majority in the making. This report was made at a time when the network's own national poll showed the popular vote to be quite close, with Dukakis trailing Bush by just five points, 51 to 46 percent.
This was no doubt the most controversial media poll during the election campaign, in part because of what many felt were underlying flaws in the way the poll was conducted, but also because of its timing. The poll was reported so close to the second debate it strongly influenced reporters' assessment of how well Dukakis had to do in the debate in order to win the election. "Only a decisive win in the second debate could revive an obviously faltering Dukakis campaign," was the message reporters took from this ABC report of its poll of 50 states. But Dukakis did not deliver the knockout blow, and as far as the media were concerned, the election was over. The poll thus had a damaging impact on the Dukakis candidacy, not so