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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Exit Poll Head Honcho takes his Hack at the Bloggers...

USA TODAY takes their turn at slapping down the "Blogger Community." As expected, they fail to distinguish between those blogs that took a guarded approach to the early exit poll data, and those blogs that put the numbers out as gospel. Quite frankly, USA TODAY misses many valid issues that should have been the crux of their article. Perhaps they don't understand the internet "community." Or worse, perhaps they do.

By Mark Memmott, USA TODAY
November 18, 2004

On future election days, news organizations that pay for surveys of voters leaving polling places won't see results until late afternoon or early evening.

They shouldn't see them at all. At least, they shouldn't reference them until after the election results are in the can. Exit polls, if they are to be done, should be for educational research, or if reflective of the result, supporting documentation. Exit polls sponsored by the media, for the media, and used prior to a result, is nothing short of attempting to create news with speculative, and inherently incomplete data. Purist journalists know better than this. The Exit polls will never be 100% accurate. Totals of the actual cast ballots is a certainty and not open for speculation (for the most part).

The purpose of a news service is to report the news. With every step into the realm of "speculation," a legitimate news service flirts with the field of Opinion Editorial. Such an exploit tempts an alleged non-bias entity with ideology and agenda driven news whether purposeful or not. Exit polls should serve a similar rationale to "pooling a jury" after a Court verdict so as to get a grasp on what was considered important in the jury's decision.

In reality, exit pools should go the way of Tom Daschle…into obscurity. Or, the results of such an effort should be to support an explanation of why the electorate voted as they did. The data has a post event purpose, not a predisposed prediction status.

USA TODAY (continued)

The goal is to avoid a repeat of what happened this Election Day, when leaked information from exit polls was posted by Internet commentators known as bloggers about 1 p.m. ET. That was just minutes after the data had been given to the five television networks that, along with the Associated Press, formed a consortium to pay for exit polls and count votes during major elections.

Clarification is in order on this issue. The intention of the statement is to imply that the bloggers made the mistake of releasing raw data. Yet, common sense would dictate that the individual(s) who released the data initially to the bloggers did so with some sort of motivation. Without knowing the source, determining the motivation is near impossible. There is no implication as to why the data was leaked to bloggers in the first place. Who leaked the data? And, for what the purpose the data was leaked? The blog, Power Line, particpated at the invitation of NBC in the election day coverage as did Joe Trippi and Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette). As documented on Power Line , both Trippi and Cox were given separate data of the early returns from different sources. Cox regurgitated the data, almost immediately, to her blog. Personally, I think she should have taken that elective course on using “qualifiers.” With accompanying comments such as “A NOTE ON EXITS/EARLY POLLING: We post these numbers because information wants to be free! Run, information! Run for your life!” it’s not much of a stretch that the “Haliburton is evil” crowd would not consider the legitimacy of the numbers since that’s what they wanted to hear.

A little later, Cox went so far as to provide this aside to a 415pm post, “A FURTHER NOTE ON EXITS/EARLY POLLING: Mystery Pollster has an excellent post on early numbers, as well as a vow to not post them himself. He's a bigger man than we are. He's as big a man as Mr. Wonkette who is a very big man and who is also anti-exit poll release. We only hope he doesn't pull a Shriver about this.”

While the one woman “slangfest” was posting these numbers that went against all conventional wisdom, without addressing their source, accuracy or integrity, Power Line was taking a very responsible approach. As early as 1:13pm, Power Line had this to say, “The Wonkette has posted some alleged exit polling that does look very good for Kerry; however, I have no idea where she got it, and I'm sitting next to her. Take it with a grain of salt. Or two.”

And then this, A reader who claims to have sources "close to the Bush campaign" says: I'm told that pollsters close to the Bush campaign think that Bush is up in Florida and New Hampshire, down in Wisconsin, even in Pennsylvania and Michigan, and "doing well" in Ohio. And they don't think that the exit-poll numbers on NRO about Ohio add up. Needless to say, I don't vouch for this any more than for the rumors I'm hearing from Democrats here. But until we get some hard news, rumors will have to do.” Notice the application of source information as well as a disclaimer on the legitimacy of the earlier numbers as well as the current ones.

USA TODAY (continued)

Sheldon Gawiser, chairman of the polling consortium's steering committee and NBC's director of elections, said Wednesday that in future elections, no data will be sent to the networks and AP until at least 4 p.m. ET. The "first wave" of data that bloggers posted this year, he said, was just too raw to be valuable to "people who don't know what they're dealing with."

Jimmy Connors had a great backhand. Andre Agassi still has an excellent backhand. Sheldon Gawiser, on the other hand, telegraphs where he is going to hit the ball. He takes a blatant swipe at the blogging community without mixing words. He refers to bloggers as individuals who do not know what to do with received information. And, as indicated above, there are certainly some bloggers that don’t understand how to deliver information in a fashion that quantifies its value. However, as Power Line demonstrated, there are others that certainly do. What the NBC’s director of elections fails to grasp is that a blog is not a hard news outlet. Blogs are about opinion. Even those blogs that merely take a news item and post a link or cut and paste an article usually have a flavor of news posted that reflects the owner’s ideology du jour. Network news outlets, on the other hand, are supposed to be non-denominational in their presentation of the news. Unfortunately, to often they are more interested in the presentation and less in the news.

More importantly, the solution presented by Gawiser is reflective of his intellect. He states that next time the “first wave” of data won’t be released until 4pm. One could get the impression that Gawiser would be good at giving a haircut. Take a little off…check out his work. Take a little more off….check it out again. Repeat until it looks ok.

However, if he took a practical approach he would realize that exit poll numbers were still horribly skewed at the late hour of 4pm. In fact, here is what it looked like on Wonkette at 441pm:
FL +4 Kerry
OH +5 Kerry
MI +4 Kerry
PA +16 Kerry
IA +2 Kerry
WI +5 Kerry
MN +15 Kerry

Again, this solicits the question of “why use the exit poll numbers for anything but support information after the actual election occurs?” The answer is simple. The networks and cable news shows are all competing to appear more intelligent and smarter than the other. They share in the information collected by a consortium to dish off to speculating talking heads. Most of the talking heads have their face plates so far up their own posteriors that their assessments only reflect a preconceived idea of the election. Yet, the election is, in fact, the only debutante at the dance. The election is the dance. The exit poll numbers are mere fodder for a parade of blow hard know it alls that should probably spend more time reviewing the comments on NRO’s Corner or Power Line.

Of course bloggers were going to discuss the data that was dropped, quite conveniently in their laps. But, the real issue here is that the forum in which the data is framed involuntarily defines its worth. Blogs are opinion. News Networks aren’t supposed to be opinion, but too often are. Gawiser has a hack’s backhand, and at 4pm during the next election he will still be hitting balls into the net.

USA TODAY (continued)

The data were supposed to be kept confidential and only used to help the networks plan their election night broadcasts. The early polls showed Sen. John Kerry leading President Bush in the race for the White House and in key states such as Florida and Ohio. By shortly after 3 p.m. ET, some television commentators were hinting that Kerry appeared likely to win.

As pointed out early by National Review Online’s “The Cornerthe numbers were skewed for reasons known and reasons unknown. The sampling was heavily weighed towards women. With only 5,000 pollsters in the field, the precincts covered, more than likely, were predominately urban. Both demographics played to the Democrats. So, more aptly, the data should have remained confidential…perhaps even after the election. Quite simply put, the consortium of news clients paid for a whole lot of nothing. Then, individuals, with access to that nothing passed it off so that nothing could be disseminated to the internet. Then, everyone was wading through tripe. Judging from how inaccurate the numbers were late in the day, I’d wager to guess that the exit poll numbers never acquired the status of inanity.

USA TODAY (continued)

After polls closed across the nation and real votes were counted, it became clear Kerry had lost the race. He got 48% of the vote nationally. Bush got 51%. Gawiser said the consortium is continuing to review how future exit polls can be made more accurate.

Simple questions deserve simple answers. Don’t release the data until after the election is certified. If the exit polls don’t support the election result, adjust the sampling strategy for the next one in two years. End of story.

USA TODAY (continued)

The networks had hoped to avoid any controversy involving exit polls. They were still stinging from what happened in 2000. Then, flawed exit polling in Florida contributed to the mistaken "calls" giving that key state to Vice President Gore and then to Bush.

This year, the leaking of the early exit poll data and the subtle use of it to hint at a possible Kerry victory caused the networks and the pollsters they hired to do the work some embarrassment.

And now, those responsible for the asinine demographic application are looking to distribute their failure to the blog community.

USA TODAY (continued)
The polling firms —Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International — and the networks said critics didn't understand that early day exit polling often produces results much different from final vote tallies. This year, some pollsters theorize, Kerry's supporters may have been more eager to get to their polling places early.

Mark Blumenthal, a pollster who caught attention this year for his Web site,, said the delayed release of the exit poll data means "better numbers" that will still be "leaked immediately."


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