11/13/2004

Washington Post's Sloppy Analysis

"Washington Post's Sloppy Analysis

By Robert Parry

The Washington Post and the big media have spoken: Questions about Nov. 2 voting irregularities and George W. Bush’s unusual vote tallies are just the ravings of Internet conspiracy theorists.

In a Nov. 11 story on A2, the Post gave the back of its hand to our story about Bush’s statistically improbable vote totals in Florida and elsewhere. While agreeing with our analysis that Bush pulled off the difficult task of winning more votes in Florida than the number of registered Republicans, the Post accuses us of overlooking the obvious explanation that many independents, “Dixiecrats” and other Democrats voted for Bush.

Mocking us as “spreadsheet-wielding conspiracy theorists,” Post reporters Manuel Roig-Franzia and Dan Keating signaled their determination to put questions about Bush’s victory outside the bounds of responsible debate. Yet, if they hadn’t been so set in this agenda, they might have avoided sloppy mistakes and untrue assertions.

In an example of their slipshod reporting, Roig-Franzia and Keating state that we focused our data analysis on rural counties in Florida. They suggest that Bush’s gains in these rural counties might be explained by the greater appeal of son-of-the-South Al Gore in 2000 than Bostonian John Kerry in 2004.

But we didn’t focus on rural counties in Florida. Rather we looked at the vote tallies statewide and zeroed in on Bush’s performance in the larger, more metropolitan counties of southern and central Florida, where Bush got the vast majority of his new votes over his state totals in 2000.

It was in these large counties where Bush’s new totals compared most surprisingly with new voter registration because Democrats did a much better job in many of these counties of registering new voters. In other words, Bush outperformed Kerry among a relatively smaller ratio of Republicans to Democrats in many of these counties.

Also undermining the Post’s claims, Kerry actually improved on Gore’s total in the smallest 20 counties in Florida by 5,618 votes -- 50,883 votes for Kerry vs. 45,265 for Gore, a 12.5% increase. So, even the Post’s notion that Gore’s Southern heritage made him more attractive to rural Floridians doesn’t fit with the actual results.

Simple Question

We began our analysis of the vote totals with one simple question: Where did Bush earn his new votes? Since one of every nine new Bush voters nationwide came from Florida, we thought this battleground state was a good place to examine county-by-county tallies.

We also didn’t go into the analysis expecting to find statistical oddities. We were open to the possibility that Bush’s totals might have fit within statistical norms.

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