11/18/2004

Scoop: Complete US Exit Poll Data Confirms Net Suspicions

Scoop: Complete US Exit Poll Data Confirms Net Suspicions
Scoop.co.nz is delighted to be able today to publish a full set of 4pm exit poll data for the first time on the Internet since the US election. The data emerged this evening NZT in a post on the Democratic Underground website under the forum name TruthIsAll.

The new data confirms what was already widely known about the swing in favour of George Bush, but amplifies the extent of that swing.


Figure 1: Graph showing the "red shift" between 2004 US General Election exit polls & the actual 2004 US Election results

In the data which is shown below in tabulated form, and above in graph form, we can see that 42 of the 51 states in the union swung towards George Bush while only nine swung towards Kerry.

There has to date been no official explanation for the discrepancy.

Ordinarily in the absence of an obvious mistabulation error, roughly the same number of states should have swung towards each candidate.

Moreover many of the states that swung against Democratic Party hopeful John Kerry swung to an extent that is well beyond the margin of error in exit polls. Exit polls by their nature - they ask voters how they actually voted rather than about their intentions - are typically considered highly accurate.

Last week in an analysis of a similar, but incomplete set of data, Dr Stephen F. Freeman from the University of Pennsylvania calculated that the odds of just three of the major swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania all swinging as far as they did against their respective exit polls were 250 milllion to 1. (See…"The Unexplained Exit Poll Discrepancy" – Dr Stephen F. Freeman - .pdf format)

Dr Freeman's academic paper contains a thorough description of why and how exit polls are conducted (in some countries they use them to prevent against vote fraud), and considers a number of hypotheses for why this year's polls could have been so dramatically wrong. He concludes that the reasons are unknown.

CAUTIONARY NOTE: The data that is released today shows the 4pm data run from the Edison-Mitofsky polling company. This run was based on 63% of the full 13660 sample in the poll. However as we also have a set of data from around midnight with which to compare this data, we can tell that the final exit poll results were not that far different than these early results. This in itself tends to suggest that the polling system did not have a systemic bias in its early data as suggested by some commentators in early reports on this puzzle.

BACKGROUND

Ever since the first analyses (See... "Faun Otter: Vote Fraud - Exit Polls Vs Actuals ") showing the swing in favour of US President George Bush between the exit polls and the actual results were published, the internet has been swimming with rumour and speculation about what the results meant.

These initial internet news reports were debunked in a report from the CALTECH/MIT Voting Technology Project which was widely distributed to the media in the days immediately following the election. The unnamed authors of this report stated it is not immediately apparent that any systematic biases are revealed when we take the analysis down to the state level."

This report was subsequently quoted in a November 12th New York Times front page article ("Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried") that purported to debunk Internet conspiracy theories and misconceptions about the 2004 election, including those about the exit polls. The New York Times stated:

A preliminary study produced by the Voting Technology Project, a cooperative effort between the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came to a similar conclusion. Its study found "no particular patterns" relating to voting systems and the final results of the election.

"The 'facts' that are being circulated on the Internet," the study concluded, "appear to be selectively chosen to make the point."

However CALTECH/MIT's analysis had already been proved flawed on November 11 when Scoop.co.nz published the first iteration of a set of data that was fortuitously captured by VerifiedVoting.org activist Jonathan Simon in the early minutes of Nov. 3 (See… "47 State Exit Poll Analysis Confirms Swing Anomaly"). Dr Freeman's report was also based on this data. However Jonathan Simon had not managed to capture data for all states - hence the hunt for the full set of data continued.

Interestingly after the Simon data was widely circulated in the blogosphere the authors of the CALTECH/MIT report edited their footnotes (see footnote 2 & compare with the version cited above & hosted on Scoop) making it clear that the source of their data was the publicly available Exit Poll reports on CNN.com which were "rebalanced" in the early hours of Nov. 3. This data which has effectively been recast to fit the final results cannot really be termed exit poll data at all and has been the source of a great deal of confusion.

Surprise, Surprise: Exit polls will be DENIED to bloggers
Yahoo! News - Exit poll data will be delayed
On future election days, news organizations that pay for surveys of voters leaving polling places won't see results until late afternoon or early evening. The goal is to avoid a repeat of what happened this Election Day, when leaked information from exit polls was posted by Internet commentators known as bloggers about 1 p.m. ET. That was just minutes after the data had been given to the five television networks that, along with the Associated Press, formed a consortium to pay for exit polls and count votes during major elections. Sheldon Gawiser, chairman of the polling consortium's steering committee and NBC's director of elections, said Wednesday that in future elections, no data will be sent to the networks and AP until at least 4 p.m. ET. The "first wave" of data that bloggers posted this year, he said, was just too raw to be valuable to "people who don't know what they're dealing with."

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