November 9, 2008

My Election Wrap-Up VDARE column

Lots of good stuff in my column this week, so read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt of things you won't find elsewhere on what's wrong with exit polls in general and why they're no good for determining an ethnic groups' share of the electorate.

Unfortunately, exit polling is becoming less reliable each election. Its history in this decade has been ignominious.

In the 2002 midterm elections, the exit polls weren’t published because of a software foul-up. (In 2003, I purchased the raw data and crunched the 2002 numbers so they wouldn’t be lost to history.)

In 2004, the exit polls predicted a narrow Kerry victory. In addition, they initially reported that Bush had garnered 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. After I pointed out how unlikely that was, the polling company announced weeks later that the number should have been about 40 percent. (And keep in mind that Bush only got to 40 percent via his Housing Bubble, which poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of Hispanic homebuyers and construction workers.)

In 2008, the lone exit poll predicted an Obama landslide. Karl Rove complained right after this election:

"We can't be precise, because for the third election in a row the exit polls were trash. The raw numbers forecast an 18-point Obama win, news organizations who underwrote the poll arbitrarily dialed it down to a 10-point Obama edge, and the actual margin was six. [Actually, closer to seven than to six, it looks now.]"[How the President-Elect Did It , by Karl Rove, WSJ, November 6, 2008]

Why are exit polls so bad in this decade?

One problem is that there is more early voting and more mail-in voting each election. In 2008, there was also likely to be a large Bradley Effect in which intimidated Republican voters offer politically correct answers to the young, Democratic-looking pollsters who accost them after voting.

Nevertheless, the most fundamental problem is one that's common in the marketing research industry, where I worked for many years: it has become a monopoly.

There’s an old saying in the marketing research business that in viable industry segment, there’s only room for 1.5 firms. You'll notice, for example, that Nielsen doesn't have any competition for TV ratings and Arbitron doesn't have any competition for radio ratings. They could enter each other’s field, but then they’d both lose money in both fields. Why ruin nice little monopolies? In contrast, in the supermarket sales data field, there have long been two competitors, with rapid technological advancements resulting. That little industry, however, was long notorious among investors for generating terrible profit margins due to a decade-long price war between the two rivals.

Back in 2000, there were three national exit polls, one sponsored by a group of media outlets (which I’ll call the CNN poll for the convenience of its website), one by the New York Times, and one by the Los Angeles Times. They came up with different figures for the GOP share of the Hispanic vote: 31 percent according to the NYT, 35 percent according to CNN and its colleagues, and 38 percent according to the LAT.

This fuzzy math had the dual benefits of keeping you from being too stridently confident about the results ("Well, all we can say is the real number was likely somewhere in the 30s") while letting you triple-check your numbers ("Yes, although we can’t be sure, 35 percent sounds like a reasonable estimate.")

Over the course of the decade, unfortunately, the individual newspapers dropped out of the business. The cartel’s poll has wound up as a monopoly, with the usual results in terms of quality and reliability. Without competition to spur them on, they usually do a bad job.

It’s particularly important to understand that exit polls are not a very good way to determine an ethnic group’s share of the vote. There are all sorts of articles exulting over the huge turnout of Hispanics last Tuesday, but they all seem to reference the exit poll rather than real world results. A huge chunk of Hispanic voters are in California and Texas, both states in which there was little campaigning, advertising, or canvassing because they were all wrapped up.

The CNN exit poll has a long history of exaggerating the Hispanic share of the vote in contrast to the gold standard Census Bureau phone survey of 50,000 households that is conducted immediately after each election but not released until the following year. In 2000, the CNN and friends exit poll reported Hispanics made up 7 percent. The Census Bureau said 5.4 percent. In 2004, CNN said 8 percent, the Census 6.0 percent. In 2008, CNN said 9 percent, while, I’m guessing, based on trends going back to the 1970s, that the Census Bureau will eventually report the 2008 Hispanic fraction as a little under 7.0 percent.

It’s worth noting that this year’s much-publicized 9 percent figure for Hispanic’s share of the vote is from the exit poll’s smaller "national sample." The blogger Audacious Epigone toted up the figures from the exit poll’s much larger "state sample" and came up with 7.54 percent, which sounds more plausible.

In general, exit polls aren't very good at figuring out turnout shares. If you stop and think about what’s involved in running a national exit poll, you can grasp why.

Only a tiny fraction of all the polling places in the country are covered, so the polling company has to decide ahead of time where to send their pollsters. That isn’t a big problem for calculating, say, the female share of the vote, because males and females generally live in the same neighborhoods. However, racial groups frequently don’t live in the same neighborhoods. Thus, the polling firm has to choose carefully which neighborhoods to survey in order to get the "right" number of voters from a particular group.

Therefore, long before the election, the polling company must come up with an estimate of each group’s expected share in order to decide which polling stations to cover. This prediction tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The firm’s thinking may go something like this: "Okay, we said the Hispanic share last time was 8 percent, and everybody knows they are growing, so we’d better report Hispanics as 9 percent this time, or we’ll look bad. So, let’s figure out which neighborhoods to send pollsters to in order that 9 percent of the voters they interview are Hispanic."

Read the rest here.


Anonymous said...

So, is the two-party system not a "viable industry segment"? That's 0.5 parties too many...

I wish Steve would stop using the inaccurate and misleading phrase "midterm elections". They are nothing of the kind. Those elections come at the end of the office's term.

Now, Ted Stevens's seat may experience a real midterm election.

jbday said...

Reg, the "midterms" is reference to the fact that they take place about halfway through a president's term. America's obsession with the presidency leads to use of such terms.

"That he still got 46 percent of the vote attests more to the value of the brand than to his performance.

I agree with what Bay Buchanan wrote in early June, "John McCain is relevant only in so far as he is not Barack Obama." Obama was able to convince a majority of the American people that he was not outside of the mainstream and that he was capable of being commander-in-chief. As long as he was able to do those two thing, victory was assured because of the unpopularity of the Republican Party, particularly Bush.

The McCain campaign wasted about two months on "character" and "Country First" when they should have been going directly going after Obama. When McCain said Obama was not a man you needed to scared of, he just made it easier for soft Obama supporters to believe he was safe. The people who went to McCain and Palin rallies, manned the phones and knocked on doors were desperate for McCain to seriously go after Obama. Jeremiah Wright was the only fatal rock McCain could have slung against Obama's Goliath.

Garland said...

"But the glittering prizes are only available to those with more courage than the old jet pilot showed in 2008."

In, I guess, fairness to McCain and his political courage, it's not at all clear to me how much it was a question of courage. For most Republicans, sure, it would have been. But McCain I think really believes in liberalism, eg his *active* fanaticism on immigration, not passive acquiescence to PC. In his view he was doing the right thing, even the brave thing, by playing by PC rules in the campaign.

Anonymous said...

The movie "Twelve Angry Men", from 1957, was on the other day while I was packing antiques in my living room a couple weeks ago. It was plum awful, of course, but I immediately thought of McCain and just knew, *knew*, why he is the way he is. He would have been 19 years old when this particular movie came out, a "teaching" movie that was emblematic of others starting to come out in the fifties: teaching racial liberalism without any nuance. McCain came of age when all right thinking people were embracing such very new, yet simplistic notions. I had to ask my husband to turn it down because the bigot literally yells very nearly every single time he speaks (he even breaks down crying at the end, revealing some pop-psych reason for hating the defendant). The television series, MASH of the '70's and early '80's, strikes me the same way. McCain even talks like the wise protagonists in these movies and shows.

I came to the same conclusion you did about white politicians and the Democratic party. While Ferraro on election night cheered that Obama was able to go into states that nobody thought possible for a Democrat to win, it naturally occurred to us all that *only* a black Democrat can do that because only such a Democrat can get Blacks to turn out like that.

I don't think our country will be recognizable to us in 20 years and will be wildly different in 30. I've thought this for the past six months and political events make me believe that more and more firmly. The latest is that liberals know in a very real way that minorities are not their friends on social issues and this is starting to have real consequences as their numbers and clout grow. The liberals may yet win due to the judiciary in California, but it will be a phyrric victory. I can see liberal whites retreating to the two north corners of our country and I'm not sure about everyone else.

Anonymous said...

I think you are being a tad dismissive of McCain's political judgment. There is a resonable case that he also knew he had to boost white support and with the Palin pick he decided to try and unify whites across gender and class. It almost worked I would say - one financial crisis less and he might have made it. Yes, he would have been better off with a more coherent program and declaring war on the MSMs' sensibilities but was presumably trying to square his own sense of honor with what he needed to do. No one who has been that long in public life is devoid of an instinct for the sharp lines of politics!

Anonymous said...

One hundred percent of U.S. national politicians know the AIPAC Strategy (appealing to Jews) beats the Sailer Strategy (appealing to gentile whites) every time.

Anonymous said...

One hundred percent of U.S. national politicians know the AIPAC Strategy (appealing to Jews) beats the Sailer Strategy (appealing to gentile whites) every time.

"AIPAC strategy" is a misnomer: McCain/Palin certainly presented themselves as more aggressive supporters of Israel than Obama/Biden.

Also, did Obama win significantly more support from Jews than Gore or Kerry did?

Anonymous said...

Do the math. Whites are 77% of the electorate - and declining. Running a campaign premised on the belief that minorities are a problem, means 1) they will all vote against you 2) that you would have to get 2/3 of the white vote to win. Basically impossible. Listening to your "advice" would be suicidal. Its too bad the US is not a Westminster parliamentary system where the VDARE party could claim its ten seats out of 300; the Black Panthers its ten seats; the Green party its ten seats, etc. so that all interest groups could potentially have a tangible say in the governing coalitions, a la Europe.

Anonymous said...

green mamba said...

Also, did Obama win significantly more support from Jews than Gore or Kerry did?

Yes, Jews went 74-22 for Obama. That doesn't include the slanted media coverage that was put out by the media.

Audacious Epigone said...

Green Mamba,

No. Shares of the Democratic Jewish vote for the previous three Presidential elections:

Obama - 78%
Kerry - 74%
Gore - 79%

Anonymous said...

""AIPAC strategy" is a misnomer: McCain/Palin certainly presented themselves as more aggressive supporters of Israel than Obama/Biden."

Green Mamba is right. AIPAC imples pro-Israel. I think it is a misconception that The values of (a) secular progressive Jews and the value of (b) the most steadfast Zionists are approximately the same.

First, (b) includes a ton of non-Jews, esp. Protestant conservatives. Secondly, (b) includes a lot of anti-leftists (ditto). (A) includes a lot of Reform Jews who sometimes seem to think of Israel as just a bunch of kibbutzim who could get along with the Palestinians if only they'd stop with that whole military thing.

Needless to say, (a) liked Obama better, (b) like McCain as much if not more. And neither figured out the single position on Israel that makes any sense, namely Ilana Mercer's position that Israel has a right to exist, and that it has a right to defend itself without kibbitzing from the US ... and that the US taxpayer owes not a dime to the Israeli tax-spender.

Stop the aid, respect the right of self-defense, defend your borders ... a position so normal it's been completely forgotten by the sort of people who need to use Hobbit weed to help them "think globally". (Maybe that's an unfair assertion, but the strongest opinions on Israel I've ever heard were from a self-proclaimed "hippy" pacifist Jew whose father was from Israel, who was convinced that the attacks on Israel would stop if they'd just be "like Costa Rica" and abolish their army.)

Anonymous said...

I'd be surprised if this is a huge surprise to the clipboard crowd or those who put such great store in polling - but I so throughly object to the manipulation of the weak minded that is inherent in the polling (& public results anticipation) process that I make it a rule to tell the truth about almost absolutely nothing (my age, sex, & race are a bit difficult to lie about, at least in person)to pollsters and exit interviewers. Perhaps many of the similarly inclined are joining me in making this activity worthless to anyone. If so, good riddance.

Anonymous said...

Demographically speaking the Jews are finished. Their numbers are declining faster then for Christian whites. They are inter marrying and most of them are not very religious anyway. Worse, their traditional enemies the Arabs, are growing. I don;t think they will be getting the last laugh by any means.

Robert said...

Fight To Reveal Obama's Birth Certificate Continues
By John P. Connolly, The Bulletin

Two of the plaintiffs in court cases against Sen. Barack Obama, the president-elect, are working to move their cases forward before his presidential inauguration.

Philip J. Berg, the attorney who filed suit against Mr. Obama challenging him to produce his original birth certificate to prove he meets the constitutional requirements to serve as U.S. president. Mr. Berg filed a Writ of Certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court late in October, in an effort to force Mr. Obama to produce the document.

Accordingly, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that Mr. Obama, the DNC and all co-defendants are to respond to the writ, on or before Dec. 1.

The judge in Mr. Berg's original case ruled that Mr. Berg does not have standing to enforce the constitutional requirements on a presidential candidate. Mr. Berg appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

"I look forward to receiving defendant Obama's response to the writ and am hopeful the U. S. Supreme Court will review Berg v. Obama. I believe Mr. Obama is not a constitutionally-qualified natural-born citizen and is ineligible to assume the office of President of the United States."

Mr. Obama put an electronic photo of a birth certification on his "Fight the Smears" Web site, a document that his critics have found unconvincing. The raised seal and authoritative signature needed to validate the document cannot be seen on the scan. The Obama campaign was unwilling to release the original document to the court when Mr. Berg filed suit in August, choosing instead to argue against Mr. Berg's standing.

Mr. Berg asserts that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya, as his mother, Ann Dunham, was denied entry to the plane home due to her advanced pregnancy. Since she was only 18 at the time of Mr. Obama's birth, she would not have passed citizenship on to Mr. Obama. In 1961, citizenship could only be passed on to a child where one parent was an alien should the citizen parent have resided in the U.S. for 10 years, five of those over the age of 14.

The State of Hawaii has refused to release copies of Mr. Obama's birth certificate, because Department of Health officials say the privacy statutes of the state prevent them from doing so to anyone who does not have a "direct and tangible interest" in the record as prescribed in the state statute.

In Honolulu, Andy Martin, a longtime critic of Mr. Obama, filed a lawsuit in October, in an attempt to get the Hawaiian Department of Health to release Mr. Obama's birth certificate records. Mr. Martin announced last week that he plans to get members of the Electoral College to pressure Mr. Obama into presenting his birth certificate.

"We are going to start organizing a 'Goal Line Stand' in the Electoral College to force Barack Obama to produce his original 1961 birth certificate for review by the American people," Mr. Martin said. "Republicans, conservatives and independents have a new rallying point. Don't let Obama pass through the Electoral College until he has produced his original birth certificate and ended the mystery shrouding his origins."

No one, aside from Department of Health officials, has seen the original document. Mr. Martin has a court hearing on Nov. 18 in the Circuit Court for Honolulu, Hawaii to continue his case.

John P. Connolly can be reached at

©The Bulletin 2008 Philadelphia

Anonymous said...

Do the math. Whites are 77% of the electorate - and declining. Running a campaign premised on the belief that minorities are a problem, means 1) they will all vote against you 2) that you would have to get 2/3 of the white vote to win. Basically impossible.

What is "a campaign premised on the belief that minorities are a problem"? I'll assume you are talking about an anti-immigration platform?

Steve has debunked this before. Black votes are not in play. Most Hispanics are already voting against you. Further losses among Hispanics and whiter people are more than offset by gains among anti-immigration whites.