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Surprise at Obama’s victory illustrates growing partisan divide in US media

Conservatives' shock that Mitt Romney did not win big is further evidence, analysts say, that the public is consuming media that reinforce personal views rather than give actual information about the world.

By Staff writer / November 7, 2012

Republicans watch Fox News for election updates during the Albemarle County Republican Committee's watch party at the DoubleTree Tuesday in Albermarle, Va.

Sabrina Schaeffer/The Daily Progress/AP

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The big media story emerging from President Obama’s reelection is the fact that so many on the right were so stunned by the results.

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Social media were abuzz with shock and dismay at what many conservatives felt was a last-minute reversal of the prolific positive predictions they had been hearing.

More than a few conservative commentators, including prominent pundits such as George Will, had been predicting that Mitt Romney would take more than 300 electoral votes in a landslide election on Tuesday.

At the same time, statistical blogger Nate Silver at The New York Times and survey aggregator Real Clear Politics were citing polls that showed Mr. Obama with a clear lead.

But, rather than the purportedly surprising election results reflecting some national subversion of the voting process, many political scientists and other analysts say this right-wing upset is dramatic evidence of a growing partisan divide in our media.

Increasingly, the public consumes media that reinforce personal views rather than give actual information about the world, says University of San Francisco political scientist Corey Cook.

“The biggest story of this election is the stories that were being told about the election,” says Professor Cook, adding, “the two sides had very different views heading into the election night.”

Fox News Channel, on the one hand, he points out, repeatedly drove home the idea that Romney was headed for a huge victory nabbing more than 300 electoral votes, while the other side was saying that calculation included states that were not even in play.

“It was really as if places like MSNBC and Fox were talking about completely different races,” he adds.

It was a huge win for pollsters such as Mr. Silver, says Matthew Reavy, chair of The University of Scranton’s Department of Communication and an expert on media coverage of politics. The final results look to be well within the margin of error of the Real Clear Politics poll average, he points out adding via e-mail, “Concerns about poll weighting and the inability to reach all Americans in the age of cell phones proved to be unfounded.”

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