By Dick Morris - 11/04/04 12:00 AM EST
Likely this faux pas will assume its place among wartime stories alongside the mistaken calls on Florida’s vote for one side and then for the other in the 2000 election. But the inaccuracies of the media’s polling deserve more scrutiny and investigation.By now it is well-known and a part of the 2004 election lore how the exit polls by the major television networks were wrong.
Likely this faux pas will assume its place among wartime stories alongside the mistaken calls on Florida’s vote for one side and then for the other in the 2000 election. But the inaccuracies of the media’s polling deserve more scrutiny and investigation.
Exit polls are almost never wrong. They eliminate the two major potential fallacies in survey research by correctly separating actual voters from those who pretend they will cast ballots but never do and by substituting actual observation for guesswork in judging the relative turnout of different parts of the state.
So reliable are the surveys that actually tap voters as they leave the polling places that they are used as guides to the relative honesty of elections in Third World countries. When I worked on Vicente Fox’s campaign in Mexico, for example, I was so fearful that the governing PRI would steal the election that I had the campaign commission two U.S. firms to conduct exit polls to be released immediately after the polls closed to foreclose the possibility of finagling with the returns. When the polls announced a seven-point Fox victory, mobs thronged the streets in a joyous celebration within minutes that made fraud in the actual counting impossible.
But this Tuesday, the networks did get the exit polls wrong. Not just some of them. They got all of the Bush states wrong. So, according to ABC-TV’s exit polls, for example, Kerry was slated to carry Florida, Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa, all of which Bush carried. The only swing state the network had going to Bush was West Virginia, which the president won by 10 points.
To screw up one exit poll is unheard of. To miss six of them is incredible. It boggles the imagination how pollsters could be that incompetent and invites speculation that more than honest error was at play here.
The mistaken exit polls infiltrated all three networks and the cable news outlets and had a chilling effect on the coverage of election night.
While all anchors refrained from announcing the exit-poll results, it was clear from the context of their comments that they expected Kerry to win and wondered if Bush could hold any key state.
Indeed, one network hesitated to call Mississippi for Bush because of the uncertainty injected by the bogus exit polls. Dark minds will suspect that these polls were deliberately manipulated to dampen Bush turnout in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones by conveying the impression that the president’s candidacy was a lost cause.
The exit pollsters plead that they oversampled women and that this led to their mistakes. But the very first thing a pollster does is weight or quota for gender. Once the female vote reaches 52 percent of the sample, one either refuses additional female respondents or weights down the ones one subsequently counted.
This is, dear Watson, elementary.
Next to the forged documents that sent CBS on a jihad against Bush’s National Guard service and the planned “60 Minutes” ambush over the so-called missing explosives two days before the polls opened, the possibility of biased exit polling, deliberately manipulated to try to chill the Bush turnout, must be seriously considered.
At the very least, the exit pollsters should have to explain, in public, how they were so wrong. Since their polls, if biased or cooked, represented an attempt to use the public airwaves to reduce voter turnout, they should have to explain their errors in a very public and perhaps official forum.
This was no mere mistake. Exit polls cannot be as wrong across the board as they were on election night. I suspect foul play.
Morris is the author of Rewriting History, a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History.