Say what you want about the media, but what the media says is important.
After CNN's Democratic debate on 10/13/15, it quickly became apparent that the person the pundits thought won wasn't in line with who many voters thought won.
According to Huffington Post, many respondents to online polls and focus groups said it was Bernie Sanders who won the debate. He also was the big winner on social media. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, came out on top in post debate polls.
Why the difference? One argument seems to be that the polls are more scientific. Focus groups, while important for gathering qualitative information, are an extremely small sample size. Online polls also are without a scientific sample; the people responding aren't necessarily a reflection of the public at large. The large polling companies, on the other hand, are putting together a sample they feel best reflects the electorate at large, and they are a much better predictor of quantitative results.
But something that should be said is that much of the polling occurred after the debate, meaning after those who watched had a chance to absorb what media commentators had to say about it. Putting the online polls aside, one key difference among polling respondents and focus group respondents is that focus group respondents are responding right after the debate without the influence of outside opinion.
And the media pundits overwhelmingly went for Hillary.
Like it or not, the media has a say in current events. News coverage, commentary and analysis all build narratives, and it's these narratives to which viewers often connect and from there make decisions.
It's why successful politicians do what they can to influence journalists. Sometimes it's with a stick, like when they cut off access or take on journalists head to head in verbal combat. Sometimes it's with a carrot, like the Clinton Foundation getting journalists involved in their foundation, including (surprise!) CNN's Anderson Cooper, who moderated the debate.
So, does that mean that it was the overwhelming positive coverage for Hillary that skewed the poll results that way? It certainly didn't hurt. Just how much it influenced the outcome will be subject to debate, primarily among supporters of the various candidates who are hoping to, well, shape the narrative.
At the end of the day, the media narrative can't be ignored.