On January 20 2020, the Facebook page “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism” shared a screenshot of a tweet purporting to show a televised ABC7News Bay Area segment in which Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared to receive a number of viewer votes, but was perplexingly included namelessly under “other”:
The tweet seen in the screenshot received thousands of engagements in under 24 hours:
In it, user @_ericblanc wrote:
Lol, instead of listing Bernie in their poll, @abc7newsbayarea counted his votes under “Other.” And he’s winning 😂
At the bottom of the screen, the candidates and percentages are listed below, top first (left to right), then bottom (left to right):
- Biden 29%
- Buttigieg 6%
- Warren 6%
- Klobuchar 6%
- Other 33%
- Trump 20%
Two hours later, @_ericblanc followed up with a video of the segment pictured in the first tweet. In that clip, the three anchors discuss the endorsement by the New York Times of Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar for United States president:
This is taken out of context. The poll gives us six options. The story was about NYT's split endorsement. We took the top 3 from the latest poll (in Iowa) + Klobuchar because that's what the story was. We verbally made that clear.
— Eric Shackelford (@ABC7Shack) January 20, 2020
If we do Sanders instead of "other" then Yang, etc. get shorted. It was subject to the recent story about the endorsement. The four other times we've done this Sanders was included because he was in the top three at the time.
— Eric Shackelford (@ABC7Shack) January 20, 2020
In those tweets, @ABC7Shack (Eric Shackelford) said that the story was about the Times‘ endorsement of Warren and Klobuchar, meaning they needed to be included in the poll; he added that Sanders had been chosen in previous segments because “he was in the top three at the time.” Shackelford also said that the station “took the top three from the latest poll in Iowa” in making their selections.
The segment apparently aired on January 20 2020, and polling data for Iowa was published on that date. A three-poll average from RealClearPolitics.com placed Biden first in the polls, with Sanders in second and Warren in third:
- Biden (21.0)
- Sanders (17.3)
- Warren (16.7)
- Buttigieg (16.3)
- Klobuchar (8.3)
- Yang (3.7)
- Booker (3.5)
- Steyer (3.3)
- Gabbard (1.7)
- Bloomberg (1.0)
The average drew from three polls. In two, Biden maintained a narrow lead. In the third, Sanders was ahead by five points:
- Biden (15)
- Sanders (20)
- Warren (17)
- Buttigieg (16)
- Klobuchar (6)
- Yang (5)
- Booker (3)
- Steyer (2)
- Gabbard (2)
- Bloomberg (1)
In all three polls, Sanders (again, unnamed in the segment) was ahead of Buttigieg (who was named.) In one of the three, Sanders was ahead of all candidates, including Buttigieg and Biden.
In short, @_ericblanc claimed that the local news station omitted Bernie Sanders in the category of “other”; “other” carried the highest percentage at a full third of the vote. It is true that ABC7News omitted Sanders’ name, and further true “other” also contained four to six combined points from candidates like Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Tom Steyer, Tulsi Gabbard, and Michael Bloomberg.
A Twitter user seemingly affiliated with the station claimed that Sanders was omitted based on the latest polls in Iowa, but the most recent polls we found showed Sanders polling ahead of Buttigieg — who was named in the segment — in all three polls, and polling first in one of them; the same user said that the complaints were taken out of context and that to include Sanders meant shorting other candidates.
On January 212020, the station issued an explanation and an apology to its viewers:
The text said:
We want to acknowledge a story we brought you Monday on Midday Live.
We were discussing the New York Times endorsement of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Amy Klobuchar.
During our Hot Topics discussion, we asked viewers to weigh in, in our non-scientific poll, and let us know who they support. Because there are still so many Democratic candidates, Senator Sanders and others were grouped into the “others” category. Supporters of Senator Sanders were loud and clear, saying he should have been among those candidates listed on-screen in our viewer poll. We agree, it was an error in judgment. Senator Sanders is a top-tier candidate.
In the effort to be fully transparent, we want to tell you how we picked the six options on screen. The program we use to non-scientifically poll viewers is called Megaphone. It allows for a maximum of six options to show on screen. Since the conversation was based off the New York Times endorsement, we felt Senator Klobuchar should be included. We also included President Trump since he is the Republican candidate.
That left us with four more options. Obviously there are a lot of candidates, so we chose the top three candidates from the “Focus on Rural America” poll that came out the morning of our discussion. We included “other” as an option for viewers who wanted to vote for a candidate that wasn’t listed.
This is not an excuse, but an explanation of this error in judgment.
Going forward, we are taking more consideration to polls we use and the broader lesson here, for us, is to not do these kind of insta-polls about the presidential race. As long as we can’t fit all the candidates on the screen, we should put none of them there.
The decision was not made with the intent to promote or hurt any candidate. But in hindsight, we acknowledge it left out Senator Sanders, who again is a top tier candidate and has led other polls in Iowa and across the country.
We apologize to the Senator, to those who have contacted us and we apologize to our viewers.
Updated 1/22/2020, 9:37am: Added apology and explanation from ABC7. -bb