It turns out, though, that there is one Pew proxy that has done very well at predicting election results: how closely voters are following election news. In presidential elections, Pew asks voters how closely they’ve been following “news about candidates for the presidential election”. In midterm elections, Pew asks how closely voters have been following “news about candidates and election campaigns in your state and district”. The questions aim at measuring voter engagement – but they may be getting at something far more important.
Studies have shown that people are selective about their news exposure. People are more likely to tune into the news when there are positive tidings for their side, while they are less likely to engage with the media when the narrative is negative. That’s why Republicans are more likely to watch Fox News, while Democrats tend to tune into MSNBC. People like confirmation of their own beliefs.
It seems possible, therefore, that voters are paying “very close” attention to election news when they feel there is good news for their side – and not doing so when they fear bad news. That is, voters are internalizing the current political environment in a way that horse-race polls cannot capture.