Already the 2016 presidential election has more entries than a Kentucky Derby.
But horse-race coverage — for a presidential election or a local one — is not our preferred way to help a reader prepare for casting an educated vote on Election Day.
Horse-race coverage is more about who’s neck-in-neck with whom, and less about who stands for what. It overemphasizes the latest poll and under-emphasizes how the candidates stand on an issue or who provides their financial backing.
Last week on my drive into work, a radio broadcaster was touting Donald Trump’s recent triumph in the polls. His approval rating had doubled from the previous week, the broadcaster said, and now he was second in popularity to Jeb Bush among the Republican candidates. Woo-hoo.
Those poll numbers will change 67 times in the next 67 weeks until the 2016 presidential election. But they won’t tell me anything about how good a president either is likely to be.
We’ve tried to offer readers substantive information about the presidential hopefuls alongside the splash as they announced their intent to run.
On Tuesday, for instance, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced, we put his picture on the front page and ran two stories about him inside. The first story addressed the question of how this regional figure might hold up to a grueling national campaign (a horse-race story).
The second story, however, detailed Walker’s stands on immigration, foreign policy, abortion, education and labor unions.
“The best thing we can do for the readers is to thoroughly present where all the candidates stand on the issues,” said Chad Scheer, our main wire editor, “so that they can judge for themselves who is the best fit with their own voting interests.”
Scheer has tried to do that with each announcement. We don’t write those stories ourselves, so he turns to McClatchy national writers or our wire services.
Fact-check stories also are popular with readers, particularly those that check the validity of statements candidates make during debates or in their campaign ads. Scheer will be looking for those in the coming months, as well.
Inside the TNT newsroom, more of our immediate focus is on this year’s local elections.
Today’s front-page story, for instance, explores why 88 people — including several high-profile local politicos — are running for the seemingly lowly county charter review committee. Reporter Jordan Schrader dug into the various issues bringing them to the table.
Monday’s paper will have a story about the Edgewood mayoral election. It’s especially important because it will produce the city’s first strong mayor and will be decided in the primary.
Also today, we launched our online local voter’s guide. You can find it at thenewstribune.com or more directly at http://c3.thevoterguide.org/v/tacoma15. As in years past, the guide allows you to type in your home address and see a ballot for the races in your district.
In each race, we offer background information about the candidates and have them answer a handful of specific questions. Unlike the county voter guide that allows candidates to make long, open-ended statements, we try to focus them on topics vital to their race.
I use our online guide alongside the county guide when I sit down to fill out my ballot, because each offers slightly different information.
We’re adjusting the way we cover local races in the newspaper this year. In the past, we’ve written full-length stories on many races that consisted mainly of a quote from each candidate along with a short biographical box. It was essentially the same information provided in the county voter guide.
This year we’ll focus on the most newsworthy races for full stories. For others, we’ll pull from our online guide the candidates’ side-by-side answers to a specific question. In the Tacoma City Council races, for instance, we’ll share each candidate’s stand on proposals to increase the city minimum wage.
As we get into the general election, when more campaign fliers go out, we’ll re-introduce a perennial fact-checking favorite — our Political Smell Test. Readers are great about sharing questionable candidate statements or materials, and we assign reporters to check them out.
Separately from our news coverage, the editorial board offers endorsements in key races. You don’t have to agree with every endorsement to learn something from them about the candidates. Our board spends countless hours interviewing candidates — access most people don’t have — before making choices for those deemed best for each office. Endorsements go to people of varying political persuasion.