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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election recap

Kerry concedes. Game over. Blah, blah, blah.

My excuse for the incorrect predictions? The election polls were wrong and turnout apparently wasn't so high.

CNN, in fact, has changed the results of its exit polls since this morning at 1:30 am. Now, after "reweighting" them, they show Bush winning one age demographic and tying in the other. This is the same simple demographic breakdown I cited last night which predicted a big Kerry victory.

I'm not going to talk about why the polls were apparently so wrong, but someone should.

After all, election polls are frequently used as a tool to monitor the veracity of elections.

This is from Michael Barone's Reuters column soon after the last Venezuelan election:
"Were NY Pollsters Just Playing a Joke on Chavez?" That was the typically cheeky headline on an item about the Venezuela election in The Hotline political digest ( this week. The item quoted a press release from the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Assoc. saying, "Exit Poll Results Show Major Defeat for Chavez." The release, dated 7:30 p.m., said, "With Venezuela's voting set to end at 8 p.m. EST according to election officials, final exit poll results from Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, an independent New York-based polling firm, show a major victory for the 'Yes' movement, defeating Chavez in the Venezuela presidential recall referendum." The poll showed 59 percent in favor of recalling Chavez, 41 percent against.

The next morning, Chavez was declared the winner by an almost exact opposite margin. "About 58 percent said 'no' to a recall, while 42 percent said 'yes,'" wrote the Washington Post.
How could the election polls have been so wrong in Venezuela? Barone's answer is one-party authoritarian rule. In other words, there weren't any checks and balances in Chavez's regime:
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has been running an authoritarian regime. By various means he has taken control of the legislature, the courts, the armed services and the police. His thugs have been intimidating and even killing the regime's opponents. The literature on this is voluminous....He sought to block the referendum by extralegal means and, having failed at that, resorted to intimidation to win it. There is no reason to believe that he would stop at election fraud.
Maybe I'm just paranoid since I watched most of "Bush's Brain" the night before the election.

Anyway, Barone says election polls are a valuable tool against fraud:
One weapon against such fraud is the exit poll. As Doug Schoen of Penn Schoen points out, his firm has conducted exit polls in Mexico and, just a few days ago, in the Dominican Republic, which produced results very close to the election results. His partner Mark Penn points out that the firm conducted two previous exit polls in Venezuela, both of which were on the mark. Warren Mitofsky's firm, Mitofsky International, has produced exit polls with similar results in Mexico and Russia. Mitofsky recalls that in 1994, Mexican President Carlos Salinas, seeking credibility with foreign investors for that year's Mexican elections, asked him for advice on what to do. Allow independent exit polls, Mitofsky advised, sponsored by the media, and allow the results to be announced soon after the voting. Mitofsky's exit poll results, announced soon after the polls closed, did in fact come close to the official results, as did another Mitofsky poll in 2000. More important, they provided independent confirmation of the fairness of the count.

Again, why are accurate polls so necessary? Another part of the reason is that electronic voting machines are easily manipulated and there's no paper trail:
The Penn Schoen exit poll was conducted at about 200 polling places and produced more than 20,000 responses. Changing those results from something like 42-58 (the Chavez announced figure) to 59-41 would be quite a feat. The firm employed supervisors to make sure the polling was done right. And its results by precinct can be checked against the official results reported for that precinct.

In contrast, it would be far easier, given the touch-screen voting method and central tabulation used in Venezuela, for the central counting center to falsify the results. All you would have to do is program the computer to count every sixth "yes" vote as a "no." That would transform a 59-41 vote to 42-58. And the results would still show pro-Chavez areas voting for him and anti-Chavez areas going the other way—just by different margins.

....Schoen has little doubt what happened. "I think it was a massive fraud," he told me. "Our internal sourcing tells us that there was fraud in the central commission." This was not the first time he has encountered such things. "The same thing happened in Serbia in 1992, by [President Slobodan] Milosevic. He did it again in the local elections in 1996. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people died. Had he been caught [in this fraud] in 1992, this would not have happened."

In Venezuela this year, as in Serbia in 1992, I think it's overwhelmingly likely that the exit poll was far closer than the officially announced results to the way people actually voted.
This is all just FYI.

You know, backgroud, historical information.

I haven't joined the tinfoil hat anti-Diebold crowd.

I'll just keep typing my book about the Bush Doctrine, which should now find a publisher and an audience.

Who is Michael Barone? He:
is a senior writer for U.S.News & World Report and principal coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics. He has written for many publications–including the Economist and the New York Times. Barone graduated from Harvard College and then Yale Law School and was an editor of the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Law Journal.
You can see, he's your typical left-wing conspiracy theorist.

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