Tuesday, November 4, 2008

McCain Campaign Memo: Exit polls will skew Democratic

An (ominous) internal McCain campaign memo advises: "Based on the previous exit poll results, we should expect once again that Tuesday’s exit poll data could overstate the Obama vote and under represent the McCain vote." This explanation the memo provides for the prediction is utter nonsense. This memo is downright creepy:
Mon Nov 03 2008 16:53:14 ET

. . . we want to remind the campaign that the media’s own post-election study of the exit polls in 2004 showed that the exit polls overstate the Democratic candidate’s support. Therefore, we would discourage a rush to judgment based on the exit polls and wait until there has been a representative sampling of actual tabulated results from a variety of counties and precincts in a state.

Here are the key points to keep in mind when the exit poll data starts being leaked:

1. Historically, exit polls have tended to overstate the Democratic vote.

2. The exit polls are likely to overstate the Obama vote because Obama voters are more likely to participate in the exit poll.

3. The exit polls have tended to skew most Democratic in years where there is high turnout and high vote interest like in 1992 and 2004.

4. It is not just the national exit poll that skews Democratic, but each of the state exit polls also suffers from the same Democratic leanings.

5. The results of the exit polls are also influenced by the demographics of the voters who conduct the exit polls.
What is the evidence that Democrats are more likely to participate in exit polls than Republicans?
After the 2004 election, the National Election Pool completed a study investigating why the exit polls that year showed John Kerry over performing 5.5 net points better than the actual results showed him to have done. Their conclusion was that the primary reason the exit polls was that Kerry voters and Democrats were more likely to participate in the exit polls.

“Our investigation of the differences between the exit poll estimates and the actual vote count point to one primary reason: in a number of precincts a higher than average Within Precinct Error most likely due to Kerry voters participating in the exit polls at a higher rate than Bush voters. There has been partisan overstatements in previous elections, more often overstating the Democrat, but occasionally overstating the Republican.

We believe that this will hold true this year. The recent Fox News survey showed that 46% of Obama voters said they were very likely to participate in the exit polls, while just 35% of McCain supporters are.
A Fox News survey? Please.

There is a far better explanation as to why exit polls report more support for Democratic candidates than the final poll numbers: Democratic voters' votes were less likely to have been counted. An article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. published in Rolling Stone examined -- in detail -- the case presented in the recent McCain campaign memo, and the National Election Pool (NEP) report. Kennedy writes:

Based on exit polls, CNN had predicted Kerry defeating Bush in Ohio by a margin of 4.2 percentage points. Instead, election results showed Bush winning the state by 2.5 percent. Bush also tallied 6.5 percent more than the polls had predicted in Pennsylvania, and 4.9 percent more in Florida.

According to Steven F. Freeman, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in research methodology, the odds against all three of those shifts occurring in concert are one in 660,000. "As much as we can say in sound science that something is impossible," he says, "it is impossible that the discrepancies between predicted and actual vote count in the three critical battleground states of the 2004 election could have been due to chance or random error."

Puzzled by the discrepancies, Freeman laboriously examined the raw polling data released by Edison/Mitofsky in January 2005. "I'm not even political — I despise the Democrats," he says. "I'm a survey expert. I got into this because I was mystified about how the exit polls could have been so wrong." In his forthcoming book, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count, Freeman lays out a statistical analysis of the polls that is deeply troubling.

In its official postmortem report issued two months after the election, Edison/Mitofsky was unable to identify any flaw in its methodology — so the pollsters, in essence, invented one for the electorate. According to Mitofsky, Bush partisans were simply disinclined to talk to exit pollsters on November 2nd — displaying a heretofore unknown and undocumented aversion that skewed the polls in Kerry's favor by a margin of 6.5 percent nationwide.

Industry peers didn't buy it. John Zogby, one of the nation's leading pollsters, told me that Mitofsky's "reluctant responder" hypothesis is "preposterous." Even Mitofsky, in his official report, underscored the hollowness of his theory: "It is difficult to pinpoint precisely the reasons that, in general, Kerry voters were more likely to participate in the exit polls than Bush voters."

Now, thanks to careful examination of Mitofsky's own data by Freeman and a team of eight researchers, we can say conclusively that the theory is dead wrong. In fact it was Democrats, not Republicans, who were more disinclined to answer pollsters' questions on Election Day. In Bush strongholds, Freeman and the other researchers found that fifty-six percent of voters completed the exit survey — compared to only fifty-three percent in Kerry strongholds. "The data presented to support the claim not only fails to substantiate it," observes Freeman, "but actually contradicts it."

We believe that this will hold true this year. Clearly the spin has already begun.

However, it began not with this memo, not even with the bogus accusation that "voter fraud" had been perpetrated by ACORN promoted by the McCain campaign and circulated by mainstream media outlets such as Fox News. It began before that. As Greg Palast and Robert Kennedy explain, today's problem stems from the Help America Vote Act passed in 2002.


  1. Exit polls have been wrong since 1990 in favouring the Democrats - see here and here.

    Although, this is probably the best response to the RS article.

    Fraud is Not the Answer

  2. I have taken a look at these posts. Frankly, I don't find Blumenthal (who you link to) all that convincing.

    One of Kennedy's sources, Steven F. Freeman, responds to Blumenthal.


    We reiterate that this does not prove that the official vote count was fraudulent. What it does say is that the discrepancy between the official count and the exit polls can't be just a statistical fluke, but commands some kind of systematic explanation: Either the exit poll was deeply flawed or else the vote count was corrupted.

    Blumenthal has not provided a systemic explanation for the exit poll results of 2004. His explanations don't make sense to me. The McCain memo's explanation made no sense either.

    Freeman writes:

    . . . The evidence that Kennedy cites to cast doubts on the election results come from diverse sources. . .

    That's key.

    Freeman continues:

    That's The exit polls have never been cited as primary evidence of fraud, but only as a reason to take that primary evidence to heart. The title of our book is posed as a question: "Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?" In the book, we treat the exit poll discrepancy as, in the words of Rep. John Conyers, "but one indication or warning that something may have gone wrong -- either with the polling or with the election." We agree with Conyers that the election results should bear greater scrutiny. The discrepancy is an undisputed fact. The question is, What caused it?

    There are only two possible explanations for the discrepancy: 1) far more Kerry voters than Bush voters agreed to fill out the questionnaires offered by pollsters, or 2) the votes were counted incorrectly. In our book, we examine these two possible scenarios as thoroughly as possible. . .

    The more I think about it, the more McCain memo looks really weird.


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