Thursday, November 04, 2004

Early Exit Polls Fakes

All night as election results started coming in, the network reporters discussed what went wrong with the exit poll numbers. In past years, the exit polls could usually offer a mostly accurate view of the trend of the votes coming in. In 2000 these polls were part of the reason Gore was called in the state of Florida before the polls had even closed in the pan handle. Because of the 2000 fiasco, the exit polls were revamped but in the 2002 election they were again giving inaccurate results to the point that the National Election Pool stopped releasing data.

This year was the worst year yet with respects to exit polling, but this election there was a difference. As investigated by the American Spectator, the early exit poll numbers that came in were fakes put out by the Kerry campaign.

According to at least three sources, one inside the Kerry campaign, and two outside of it, but with ties to senior Kerry advisers, some of the "early polling numbers" were in fact direct reports from Kerry campaign or Democratic Party operatives on the ground in such critical states as Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin. According to a Washington lobbyist with knowledge of the numbers, the numbers were packaged together so as to appear to be exit poll results. They were then scrubbed through several sources to land in the lap of sympathetic bloggers who these operatives believed would put the numbers up with little question.

Shortly thereafter, the real exit polling came out still showing Bush behind but not by such huge margins.

This was obviously a way to not only give encouragement to Kerry supporters and suppress Bush supporters, but to also try and discredit the new media. Unfortunately, too many bloggers as well as the Drudge Report were so eager for data to post, that they weren't careful about the source. It's not entirely their fault, of course. This was intentionally meant to fool them. Even Carl Rove took them at face value, though he was obviously skeptical of them. Nevertheless, as a new news source, we need to be more careful. I watched anchors report with barely concealed glee how they didn't report the bad poll data but that the internet had.

Here's the deal. Exit polls are obviously inaccurate. It's simply a way for the networks to make a whole news day out of something that you can't know until evening time. It's meant to give a horse-race feel to the election which does nothing more than give the networks ratings. Likewise, the constant polling throughout the whole campaign with huge margins of error do little more than to give an idea of what's happening rather than an accurate view of where the country is. Polling is just a tool with limited worth. It will continue to be used as a tool. What we need to get away from is the poll becoming the news rather than the candidates or their views. I can't tell you how often I've read or heard news stories that did nothing more than just report this poll or that poll. At risk of repeating myself, polls are not news. They are a tool, and a tool of limited effectiveness at that.


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