Nate Silver wants to scrap the “squiggly” audience reaction dials during Presidential debates. My instinctive reaction to this is “step away from the bacon, son, leave the bacon out of this. I love the crawler and think that it really helps you understand what’s going on in the debates – in particular, it helps you take one step back from your own prejudices. It’s also just about the only input into debate commentary that comes more or less unmediated; the anonymous “undecided” focus group participants might be dumb or irrational, but they’re at least not pushing an agenda. Raw data is always good to have – although Nate’s sample size points are well made, I actually doubt how much potential there is for practical error to be introduced, given that one doesn’t actually look to the crawler for straightforward yes/no answers to questions, just for an overall impression of how the participants are going over.
My only complaint about the crawler is that CNN removes it from the screen when the debate finishes. I absolutely wish that they continued to show the favourable/unfavourable reactions of the dial-testing focus group to the talking heads on the news afterwards; you’d be able to see the worm plunging every time Wolf Blitzer opened his gob.. I suspect a few uncomfortable home truths would arise out of that one. In general, more new programs should use dial-testing crawlers. And not just news, thinking about it; why doesn’t Big Brother have a crawler, since it’s also basically a popularity contest? Or the Eurovision? Chat shows would be great entertainment if you could see boring or vain starlets bleeding their popularity away in real time. At this precise moment, I can’t think of a single program on TV that wouldn’t be improved by having a dial-test at the bottom of the screen.