The pitfalls of vox pop reporting

As the election nears, there are more and more media attempts to gauge the mood of the electorate. Polls of course are one indicator but given how people got burned by polls in 2016, people are a little skeptical of putting too much faith in them. Another popular reporting staple is to go out to various communities and talk to the people and then report on what they are saying, often quoting specific individuals. These vox pop pieces (short of vox populi or ‘voice of the people’) are interesting but how seriously can you take these people in the street interviews?

I tend to not put much trust in them. As anyone who has ever been interviewed by a reporter and seen the subsequent news report knows, they will talk to you at length and often what you are quoted as saying will be a short snippet that supports the storyline that the reporter seemed to already have had in mind before they even spoke to you.

But I have noticed one feature this time around. There have been many vox pop pieces of people who voted for Trump in 2016 but have become completely disillusioned with him and this time are voting Democratic. I do not recall reading or hearing about even a single instance of the other way around, someone who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 now going for Trump. Again, this might be because of selection bias in that I am not that avid a follower of Trump-supporting media

What has been noticeable is the large number of Trump defectors and the fact that they have been organized by groups such as the Lincoln Project, Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT), and the newly formed Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform (REPAIR). What has also been unusual is the large number of high-profile Republicans who have publicly defected.

The most recent one is Olivia Troye, a lifelong Republican who was picked by Pence to serve as his main staffer on the coronavirus Task Force. She quit in disgust and has posted why she left the administration and why she will be voting for Joe Biden on RVAT.

In an interview with Susan B. Glasser she discussed her nervousness about going public.

When I spoke with Olivia Troye on Thursday afternoon, she sounded more than a little scared. She was about to go public with a scorching video, in which she would denounce President Donald Trump and his stewardship of the country during the coronavirus pandemic. Troye, who served as Vice-President Mike Pence’s adviser for homeland security until late July, has witnessed the Administration’s response to the crisis, as Pence’s top aide on the White House coronavirus task force. She had seen Trump rant in private about Fox News coverage as his public-health advisers desperately tried to get him to focus on a disease that has now killed some two hundred thousand Americans. She had decided that Trump was lying to the American public about the disease, and that “words matter, especially when you’re the President of the United States,” and that it was time to speak out. She was nervous and scared and worried for her family and her career. But she plunged ahead anyway.

Sadly, the surprise here is not that Trump acted so callously in the midst of a pandemic but that so many senior government officials know that this is happening and are doing nothing to stop it. Troye’s testimony, like that of so many others, is from inside the room—in this case, from inside the very room that is supposed to be dealing with the single biggest crisis currently afflicting the United States.

I asked her if she was bothered by the failure of senior officials who share her views to speak out as she had done. Troye was generous. “I know that I am not alone—and how hard it is,” she said. But, she added—and this is a point that cannot be repeated enough between now and November 3rd—this is not a time for silence. “I hope that this will encourage other voices who were obviously much more senior than I was to tell the truth about the situation here we’re in,” she said. “And how dangerous this is.

Another high-level staffer who has also defected is Josh Venable, who had until 2018 been chief of staff to education secretary Betsy DeVos.

As Glasser says, these are relatively young people who are risking their careers and calls into question the silence of much more secure and senior people who could afford to speak out.


  1. jrkrideau says

    I am sorry but I am not impressed by someone who bails at this late date. In my country, any responsible civil servant should have resigned long before and anyone who had not would be seen as a disgusting sycophant .

    I am a loss how to better describe such a person.

  2. jenorafeuer says

    Of course, in our country, things like the civil service and the people who draw up the electoral districts are very explicitly supposed to be apolitical.

    And while being completely ‘apolitical’ is pretty much impossible for a human being, the system as a whole hasn’t strayed too far from it over the last few decades, despite some of Harris’ attempts.

    (Pierre Trudeau was an arrogant bastard in many ways who believed that he and he alone knew what was best for the country, but I agree with some of the changes he made to the civil service structure, making it more independent of the politics at the top, as well as requiring bilingualism. Requiring the ability to speak both English and French for government jobs has probably done more to kneecap the Quebec separatist movement long term than any other single change in policy.)

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