Friday, November 05, 2004

Press still in denial, thinks exit polling was wrong rather than investigating voting fraud

NOTE: The following article shows that the press is once again failing to do their job. They are making the very incorrect assumption that the reported vote was right and the exit polling was wrong. The many and increasing stories of people voting in various states on the new e-voting machines voting for Kerry but the machine changing the vote to Bush should be leading the press to raise loud questions and do some serious investigations. So far that is not happening.

The New York Times
November 5, 2004

Report Says Problems Led to Skewed Surveying Data

The new $10 million polling system used by many news organizations to predict the outcome of the presidential race had a number of problems that led to the early erroneous impression that John Kerry was heading for victory, according to a report prepared by the system's architects.

The report, written by Joe Lenski and Warren Mitofsky and obtained by The New York Times, details systemic glitches that skewed the data in ways of which several news organizations, who paid tens of thousands of dollars for the service, were not aware.

In some cases, the report said, survey takers could not get close enough to the polls to collect adequate samples of voters opinion. They were often stopped by legal barriers devised to keep people electioneering - not necessarily bona fide poll canvassers - away from voters.

The report also theorized that the poll results more frequently overstated support for Mr. Kerry than for President Bush because the Democratic nominee's supporters were more open to pollsters. Whatever the case, according to the report, the surveys had the biggest partisan skew since at least 1988, the earliest election the report tracked.

"We share all the members' concerns about the inaccuracies in the projections produced by the early waves of exit poll data and we are personally miffed about the early results,'' the report said.

The new system was engineered to avoid such problems. It was built by the National Election Pool, a consortium of the major television networks and The Associated Press, after an earlier set-up, the Voter News Service, helped lead the networks to call the state of Florida in the 2000 election first for Al Gore, then for George W. Bush, then for neither. The system broke down almost entirely on Election Day 2002.

Since Tuesday, the networks have played down errors caused by the system. They said that the data problems were rectified as the night went on, so that the final poll, highlighting why certain blocs voted the way they did, was accurate. Perhaps most important, they say, it never led them to make a wrong call. And even critics of the system agree that many of the problems highlighted in the report are typical of such polls, which are devised to correct themselves as more data accrues.

But the problems with the data seemed seriously exacerbated this year, resulting in a number of angry subscribers.

Officials with some of the newspapers that subscribed to the service said the ultimately misleading polling data forced them to scramble late at night to change some articles. The presumption of a Kerry victory built a head of steam late in the day, when the national survey showed the senator with a statistically significant lead, one falling outside the survey's margin of error.

"The last wave of national exit polls we received, along with many other subscribers, showed Kerry winning the popular vote by 51 percent to 48 percent, if true, surely enough to carry the Electoral College,'' Steve Coll, managing editor of The Washington Post, wrote in an online chat with readers Wednesday.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Coll said his newspaper had to scramble to make last-minute changes to an article analyzing why voters voted the way they did that was based in part on the poll data when it was clear that no such victory for Mr. Kerry was possible.

"We think it wasn't worth what we paid for it, that's for sure,'' Mr. Coll said of the survey data.

The New York Times removed an analytical piece about the vote based in part on the Election Day survey from its later editions.

Officials with the consortium said they did not yet have a full explanation for why the national poll skewed in Mr. Kerry's favor. But Mr. Lenski acknowledged that subscribers should have been made more aware of the problems that were becoming apparent through the day, as all of the partners running the system were. He said no subscribers had asked for their money back.

But while newspapers and the networks avoided any major missteps that might have been caused by the flawed data, the report struck an alarmed tone over the way the information spread throughout Internet sites. Millions of people viewing those sites may not have approached the data with enough skepticism, the report said, in part because many of the sites did not include specific or detailed caveats that the results were preliminary and many fell within margins of error.

The report saved some of its harshest words for the networks and subscribers, whom it accused of allowing the data to leak.

"If it were not for leaks we would not have much of the problem forced on us by the leakees: the nonsubscribing media and the politicos,'' the report said. "They don't know how to evaluate what is being leaked, and then they demand that the leaked results be accurate in midday before it is vetted and before it is complete."

It went on, "We made a mistake in not realizing the full impact of these leaked exit poll numbers on the political discourse of the day.''

Even Tony Blair, the British prime minister, was fooled. In an interview with The Times of London, Mr. Blair said he had gone to bed thinking Mr. Kerry was the next president of the United States, only to wake up to learn otherwise.

It is unclear if the poll information affected the vote. Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who worked for Mr. Kerry, said it was a matter of debate whether information about how one side or another is doing ever affects turnout significantly.

But the survey data this time around certainly created a sense of demoralization among Democrats who had seen the Election Day polling data, leading some of Mr. Kerry's supporters to speculate that the data was accurate but the actual vote was fraudulent. A participant in Mr. Coll's online chat asked him, "What about the possibility that the exit polls are right and the vote count is wrong?'' The report debunked that as a possibility.

Bill Wheatley, a vice president at NBC News, a partner overseeing the operation, said he would suggest that in future elections the survey data be reported later in the day, to shorten the time in which it could be leaked.

"We have begun discussions already with the group to see if it's feasible to delay the release of the data,'' Mr. Wheatley said.