Oh, no! Not another "Kerry won" diary!

Note: see "late update" below.

Well, not really, but this report from USCountVotes has gotten surprisingly little attention, even in the left blogosphere where you would think it'd be most warmly received.

In this report, USCountVotes analyzes the claim that the discrepancy between the 2004 Presidential vote and the exit polls was caused by Bush voters' greater reluctance to be interviewed by exit pollsters. That claim is found severely wanting. Instead, the evidence suggests the worst discrepancies were in GOP strongholds, which is consistent with (but doesn't prove) the hypothesis of widespread GOP tampering in areas they control. It would also be consistent with the observation that GOP-leaning demographic groups, like the fundies, appeared to swing even more toward the GOP in 2004 than in 2000.

The report does not prove that "Kerry won," nor that widespread, deliberate fraud occured, nor does it speculate on the "true" election result.

So why does it matter, especially at this late date? Well, for one thing, we Democrats have been running around like decapitated chickens since the election, trying to figure out where John Kerry went "wrong," so we can avoid the same fate in 2008.

However, this report would imply that Bush's margin of victory was much less than the official figures indicate, and that, had the vote been accurately tallied, Bush may well have lost the electoral college. If so, perhaps we've been too hard on Kerry (except, of course, for criticizing his quick concession). Instead, perhaps we need to concentrate more effort on insuring our elections can't be tampered with.

(On the other hand, the report supports the conclusion that the Democrats lost the Senate races fair and square. So our criticisms of the losing Senate Democrats, as well as the DNC's Senate strategy, were apparently untainted by inaccurate info.)

There was approximately a 5.5% spread between the weighted, but unadjusted, exit poll results, and the official results: the exit polls showed Kerry headed for a 3% popular-vote victory, while the official result was a 2.5% Bush win.

There are three possible explanations for this (note, however, that they are not mutually exclusive):

  • Statistical Sampling Error (i.e., bad luck);
  • Inaccurate Exit Polls; and
  • Inaccurate Election Results (which could include everything from "spoiled" ballots to deliberate fraud)

Virtually everyone agrees that the first explanation accounts for little, if any, of the discrepancy. We've all heard the astronomical odds against sampling error accounting for the entire discrepancy.

My own view has been that both of the other explanations are partially valid, with exit poll inaccuracy accounting for somewhat more of the discrepancy than election shenanigans. However, the official position of the exit pollsters has been that exit poll inaccuracy accounts for the vast majority of the discrepancy. This report bolsters my view at the expense of the official one.

But how can we square the hypothesis that at least some of the error was in the official election results, with the failure to find any discrepancies where recounts were conducted in New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Ohio?

Well, if, and to the extent that, deliberate fraud was involved, there is one type of fraud that would likely go undetected by precinct recounts - especially if, as in Ohio, the recounted precincts were often hand-picked, rather than being selected at random (as was supposedly required by Ohio law): central tabulator fraud, in which county totals, rather than precinct totals, are manipulated.

Central tabulator fraud is obviously impossible if every precinct total in the county is accurately reported, because the numbers literally wouldn't add up. But if only some of the precinct totals are reported, a discrepancy wouldn't be obvious, and a recount obviously wouldn't show anything wrong.

The hypothesis of central tabulator fraud would also fit with the observation that hand-counted paper ballots were the only voting technology where the exit polls were relatively accurate.

If so, the 2004 Presidential election was, in fact, probably as close as the 2000 election was.

Very, very late update: About three weeks after this diary was posted, Febble at Daily Kos posted a very interesting diary, which goes a long way toward explaining the USCountVotes results without invoking fraud. Her diary is very technical and the results very counterintuitive, but suffice it to say that a non-obvious secondary statistical artifact can arise from an exit-poll bias which varies randomly from precinct to precinct, but which favors Kerry overall. This would account for the disproportionate exit-poll discrepancies in the heavily-GOP group of precincts even in the absence of fraud.

Unfortunately, by the time I became aware of Febble's contribution, I'd, um, forgotten I'd posted this diary on the USCountVotes study, so I didn't post this update for several months. My apologies.

I don't think Febble's results change my conclusions much. I do now think it unlikely that there was enough fraud in the 2004 election to have flipped Ohio, and with it the electoral college. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that our electoral system remains all-too-susceptible to fraud, and that this must change for Democrats to have a fair shake in close elections. Unfortunately, it's a catch-22: Democrats first have to win more elections before we can change the system.

As I post this, the GOP is self-destructing with the Abramoff scandal, Plamegate, the Katrina aftermath, and Bush's illegal wiretaps; and Dems held their ground in November 2005. So maybe we'll finally make up some lost ground in 2006. Let's hope so - 2008 may be our last chance to win a close Presidential election. After that, short of a landslide, we may not stand a chance.

Tags: exit polls, poll findings, polling, voting issues (all tags)

Comments

9 Comments

I agree somewhat
look, Kerry made mistakes, definitely and after a losing an election, everyone will naturally turn on the guy who losed and say he lost because of this, this, and this. All perfectly acceptable. But if Bush had lost(which could have just as easily happened) what would we have pointed to for the loss. Abu ghraib?? The sluggish economy?? The War?? The crappy debate preformances?? So, considering this was the lowest margin of victory for a re-elected prez ever we didnt do everything wrong. We arent starting from square one as a party. We certainly have issues, no doubt, but both in the pop vote and the electoral vote, we can close. Sorry, got ranty there. :).
by jj32 2005-04-01 03:35PM | 0 recs
Re: I agree somewhat
Part of the problem is that because 2000 was so close, both parties, especially the Democrats, treated 2004 like nothing more than a rematch.

The Bush states gained a few EV's due to the census. The entire Kerry strategy seemed like they wanted to keep the Gore states and turn FL, OH, and NH blue. That's no way to win an election, folks. More importantly, that's no way to build a party.

The party is not dead by any means. A terrible candidate like Kerry, who didn't campaign in about half the states, almost beat a sitting, wartime President. The Democrats would have gained seats in the House if not for Tom DeLay. More people voted for a Democratic Senator than a Republican one, but unfortunately, while Schumer, Boxer, and Obama won large states in landslides, too many Democrats lost small states by small margins. The Senate does NOT represent the electoral will of the American people by any means.

If anything the Democratic Party of 2004 strongly resembles the Republican Party that just got their asses handed to them in 1992, yet were far stronger beneath the surface. The Democrats are FAR from dead.

by wayward 2005-04-01 05:01PM | 0 recs
Empirical evidence..Huge turnout..
If turnout is any indication of voter interest.. last November the line to vote in my precinct was at least three or four times what it usually is..

And those people were clearly NOT Bush voters.. many were wearing Kerry buttons, etc.

In many cities, people waited in line five or six hours to vote.. even in pouring rain..

by ultraworld 2005-04-01 07:42PM | 0 recs
There was a similar statistical study in Florida..
that found that there were statistical anomalies in the vote count that made the probability that it was tampered with very likely..

I forget the figure.. but it was very, very high...

Many many times what a reasonable person would require to come to a conclusion..

Also, the sheer length of the various lists that are floating around of voter disenfranchisement efforts.. is pretty dammning..

Actually, this is at least the fourth or fifth study I've seen with a similar thrust...

Now, I'm no expert.. but I do know some.. I will ask...

by ultraworld 2005-04-01 07:47PM | 0 recs
Re: I agree somewhat
yup, well said. While I dont want to gloss over our problems, many people have speculated that Tom Daschle, Betty Castor and Tony Knowles(especially the last two) didnt really do anything terribly wrong in their campaigns, but they just fell short because of increase turnout in a presidential year. Especially in SD and AK, deep red states. It is just really hard to get that many people to split their tickets. Kerry definitely needed to fight in more states. Frankly, I think with the right candidate in 08, a good message and some effort we can win MO, AR, and possibly WV, VA and LA, including NM, CO, AZ, NV and of course the two big ones, FL and OH. But we need a national message or at least ideas that resonate with everyone(energy conservation and healthcare, reform of government are some possibilities).
by jj32 2005-04-01 07:51PM | 0 recs
Groan
My understanding is that the exit polls were off in predicting their own precincts. The right precincts were selected, but the polls were off in predicting the results.

Bush ran ahead of the exit polls in New Hampshire, although Kerry won the state. There was a thorough recount, no fraud was found, and the result didn't change. That also appears to be the case in the states that Kerry lost.

I just don't buy the claim that a complete lack of evidence is somehow proof of how vast and clever the vote fraud conspiracy was.

by SLinVA 2005-04-01 05:41PM | 0 recs
not a thorough recount
My understanding is that only four precincts were recounted in NH, NOT the entire state.

Obviously, the recount in Ohio was obstructed in many ways, from tampering with machinery to not selecting precincts randomly to altering the hand-count results when they did not correspond to the original machine count.

This election stinks. There is no way I will ever believe that kerry lost Ohio. If Bush had nothing to fear from a recount, there would have been a full recount to remove any cloud of suspicion.

by desmoinesdem 2005-04-01 07:26PM | 0 recs
I'm glad you did it this time. Thanks! :-)
by JamBoi 2005-04-01 07:38PM | 0 recs
If the tables were turned
Bush and the Republicans will be SHOUTING FRAUD and elevate the CASE to the Supreme Court.

If ever, Kerry, Gore and the Democrats deserve this for not fighting for the TRUTH and for not fighting to COUNT every VOTE.

by jasmine 2005-04-02 06:53AM | 0 recs

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