US Election: Where can we find useful, reliable and accurate information?

The White House, Washington D.C.
Propaganda is becoming ever more sophisticated

Winning at political betting requires cutting through the froth to find reliable sources. Paul Krishnamurty offers his advice...

"When Hillary Clinton collapsed at a 9/11 memorial...the internet went absolutely wild. The next 24 hours were on Betfair were as crazy as I can ever recall."

The year 2016 represented the birth of the post-truth world and that depressing state of affairs is now the norm. This election will see more sophisticated propaganda and disinformation than ever before.

Already, the Trump campaign has been caught releasing 'deep fake' videos. For example, they superimposed Joe Biden over real footage of Harry Belafonte falling asleep during an interview.

Foreign interference is inevitable

As usual, the Kremlin's 'information support' network are doing all they can to influence the conversation, whether via their viral online news agencies or bots and trolls. China and Iran are both reportedly targeting US voters and other countries such as the UAE were reportedly active in 2016.

To avoid being blindsided in our betting by fakery, we need reliable, trustworthy sources of information. Facts to cut through the speculation. If the last election is any sort of guide, there will be moments, spells, of high drama. We will be bombarded by competing narratives and the truth may initially be elusive.

Fake Clinton news affected the 2016 betting

One important example involved the fake news targeted at Hillary Clinton. All year long, right-wing media were predicting she would be indicted before polling day. When she collapsed at a 9/11 memorial, in exhausing heat when suffering from pneumonia, the internet went absolutely wild. She was dying. Or already dead - the pneumonia victim was a double.

The next 24 hours were on Betfair were as crazy as I can ever recall. The odds on Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tim Kaine fell by two-thirds. These alternative Democrats were traded back and forth at unrealistically low odds throughout the rest of the campaign.

Whilst most of that fake news was generated anonymously online, there was plenty in the mainstream too. I watched Sean Hannity declare live on Fox News 'exclusive breaking news' that the DNC were holding an emergency meeting to replace Clinton on the ticket with Biden. His odds fell within minutes. Nor was the Wikileaks release of information hacked by Russia restricted to online.

Which polls should we trust?

So where are these 'reliable sources' to be found? There is a plethora of polls around including plenty of fakes. Many online surveys don't meet the industry standard and some firms have bad reputations. Trump's jailed ex-fixer Michael Cohen has explained how he rigged polls last time.

The best resource to check a pollster's reputation is Fivethirtyeight. They rank each firm on performance and ban offenders. If the firm in question does not merit at least a 'B' ranking, I tend to ignore it. Place special emphasis on these A-rated pollsters.

Follow these ten high quality pollsters

MARIST COLLEGE (A+)
SELZER & CO (A+)
SIENA COLLEGE/NY UPSHOT (A+)
MONMOUTH COLLEGE (A+)
ABC/WAPO (A+)
CBS/NYT (A)
SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY (A)
SURVEY USA (A)
MUHLENBERG UNIVERSITY (A+) (Specific to Pennsylvania)
MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY (A/B) (Specific to Winsconsin)

In addition to Fivethirtyeight, there are several excellent election sites that aggregate polls and forecast results. I particularly recommend Sabato's Crystal Ball and Cook Political Report but all the main news sites are also providing comprehensive coverage.

What of the mainstream media in an age when trust is so low? We have never known more about their imperfections. Nobody, absolutely nobody, is completely neutral about politics. Nevertheless they are an infinitely superior resource than memes or anonymous online accounts.

To get a balanced set of perspectives, I recommend relying upon a very broad range of outlets with pedigree. On Twitter, be sure to follow all the major networks, whether from USA, Britain or other global outlets such as France 24, Al Jazeera or TRT. Avoid RT. It is evidently pure propaganda, as demonstrated in one criminal or counterintelligence report after another.

Is CNN fake news?

According to the President of the United States, the only mainstream US network available on UK digital TV platforms is fake news. I doubt this will convince many Trump fans but this simply isn't true.

Do they make the odd mistake? Sure, everyone does. The important thing is that they are rare and acknowledged. They fact-check themselves and scrupulously do the same to candidates.

In reality, CNN is like the BBC. They report breaking news which most serious journalists would regard newsworthy. Debate topics involve both sides. Both parties have studio representatives.

Do any of their presenters reveal their politics? Sometimes, because polemicists are a key part in US media culture - more so than the UK.

Nevertheless I rate Chris Cuomo, Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer as impeccably professional journalists. John Kelly's analysis of the polling and electoral breakdown is essential viewing for bettors. CNN provides the best election night coverage.

And what of the President's favourite channel? Fox News was taken off the air in the UK for failing to meet impartiality standards and some of the presenters have no regard for truth. Be careful, as the aforementioned Hannity example illustrates.

Equally though, Chris Matthews is an excellent journalist and moderator. I expect he will be so again at the first TV debate. Fox News polls are also fair and reliable. The same could also be said about ABC and NBC. All these channels are available online.

The American press is, in my view, far superior to the UK. The Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal are outstanding publications with a record for accuracy and tremendous detail. So too magazines such as Politico, The Atlantic or The Economist. Add these to your Twitter follows too.

The internet is anarchy - check the source

The greater threat to accuracy comes not from the mainstream, but social media. Facebook is arguably the most important battleground in any election, anywhere, nowadays. We will all be bombarded by ads, memes, smears and if nothing else, a one-sided timeline catered towards confirming our existing views.

This isn't easy to navigate but here are some basic tips. Check what you read for a source, to see where the information came from. Is any of it verifiable? Does it link to a mainstream report that hasn't been debunked or has somebody invented the story out of thin air?

Above all, step out of your comfort zone and seek alternative views. The nature of modern communications means we all exist in our bubbles. A dangerous recipe for gamblers, to avoid at all costs. The wider range of verifiable information one consumes, the better.


Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

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