Thursday, September 8, 2005

Project Censored
The latest list of important stories which never made it into the mainstream press has been released by Project Censored: ["Outrageous and uncovered"]. As always with this group, there is a lot of good stuff to take in and this text is the abbreviated version. However, I would advise that readers spend the $12 and buy the expanded paperback book edition which will be available on Sept. 28. It keep the outfit running and is always a good read.
This year, however, I am a bit disappointed that the issue of exit polling and alleged vote fraud made it into the list in the "Another year of distorted election coverage" segment. It is a good point to say that maybe the mainstream press should have given this issue more thorough coverage; but it is based on assumptions that don't always hold true. You cannot predict an election's result based on sampling 1/1,000 or 1/10,000 or 1/100,000 of one percent. The "eight million vote discrepancy" they speak of is a guess based on sampling; not actual votes being counted, and therefore does not "prove" fraud in any way. Exit polling is a sampling; it isn't the end all and be all. It is a way of gathering some interesting information about what the electorate is thinking but it doesn't tell you how they actually voted since it isn't based on actual votes; just a survey.
The problem is that political people live by their tools and die by their tools. Exit polling also doesn't take into account a whole lot of voting factors and anomalies which happen during elections. It also doesn't take into account that some people refuse to answer exit polling and that refusal can sway the results.
For example, let's say a hippie college student is sent to collect information for exit polls in a Republican district which doesn't like hippies too much. There is a good chance that only people comfortable being near hippies would fill out the survey. This would sway the results of the district on the exit poll to John Kerry by no fault of the process, with the data showing the opinions of the hippie supporter and not the people who didn't like the hippie. The data from one area is not reflective of the district as a whole based on one single factor: The appearance of the data collector.
I will use another example: Let's say there is exit polling data being collected in a very liberal area but someone on NPR joked that voters shouldn't answer exit polling surveys. The commentator suggests that this would create a hidden Kerry surprise because the early data would show President Bush comfortably in the lead. There is a good chance that the liberals listening to NPR would go back to their jobs and not fill out the surveys, isn't there? This would skew the sample from what should be a strong Kerry district and a dangerous assumption would be made with that data.
A thoughtful person can create any combination of these factors and easily make assumptions about the data collected for exit polling and prove that the data can't be trusted.
Add to this the fact that almost every conservative commentator - from Sean Hannity on down - was begging people on thousands of radio stations across the nation to get out and vote because John Kerry was leading in the early exit polling. This happened all day long after the first two rounds of exit polling data - at 9 a.m. and noon - were released to the news agencies and subscribers. The data showed a Kerry landslide. And, as we have seen, the data later showed a confident Kerry win. So confident were the sources that about five representatives from Massachusetts were already gearing up for the special election to fill Kerry's Senate seat even before the votes were counted. The data was wrong.
Time and time again, even before electronic voting machines, exit polls have been proven wrong. Just a few examples from here in our own state of New Hampshire: The 1988 Republican Presidential primary where George H. W. Bush was down by nine points before the election but ended up beating then-Sen. Bob Dole by eight percent, a 17-point spread, after the votes were counted ... and that was before indies were allowed to vote in primaries! Another example? CBS News calling the 1996 Senate race for Dick Sweat around 7 p.m. on national television against Republican incumbent Bob Smith, based on exit polls, even though polling locations were still open in the state! Those are just two from one state. I'm sure there are many more examples if anyone took the time to do the research.
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that what went on in Ohio - with the setting up of fewer voting machines in Democratic strongholds so there were long lines, discouraging turnout - was criminal. It is also interesting to think back to election night, seeing helicopters hovering over places like Cincinnati, shooting film of a lot of city folk standing in line to vote, and juxtaposed that with the helicopters taking pictures of a lot of city folk waiting to get rescued in New Orleans.

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