Exit Poll Madness

Beware of exit polls and the analysts who study them. These folks would have us believe that exit polls tell the gospel truth. They even quote the duplicitous toe-sucking Dick Morris to make their case.  “Exit polls are almost never wrong,” Morris writes.  The man is a known creep.

Exit polls are completely non-transparent and unverifiable.  They’re as bad as voting by machine, absentee, or early. There’s no meaningful oversight to either enterprise. Worse yet, a belief in exit polls is a trap that’s had tragic consequences for elections around the world.

There’s growing evidence that exit polls sponsored by the Bush Administration and the International Republican Institute were used to support rigged elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. Scott Ritter, the former U.N. weapons inspector, recently said that his information is that the Iraq election was fixed. Even the situation in the Ukraine is cause for concern as the Western governments used their own poll to discredit the first election and support the second one. It seems that the West’s favorite candidate, winner Viktor Yushchenko, promised to privatize lots of government industries and services.

Although the elections in these countries were conducted using paper ballots and (mostly) hand counts, the counting took place behind closed doors and the results took weeks to announce. What did our corporate news media report to the world on the Election Night for these countries? Not the actual vote tallies, but instead the corporate news media jubilantly announced exit polls results. Most people didn’t seem to notice the difference. And that’s thanks to people like University of Pennsylvania professor Steve F. Freeman.

“Exit polls are highly accurate,” claims Freeman in a recent report. Where did he get that information? In America, the networks completely control the exit poll operation on election night through their National Election Pool (NEP).  It’s a top secret operation. They allow no observers and provide no proof that their data is real. They completely stonewall reporters inquiries. This is what the Collier brothers, late-authors of the book, Votescam: The Stealing of America discovered, and so did I. Worse yet, back in the 1970’s in Miami, the Colliers caught the networks simply making up the exit poll numbers. My theory is that the networks do extensive pre-election polling to get a good lay-of-the-land, and then on Election Night perform a squeeze play on candidates. And although the networks’ polling organization has changed its name over the decades from News Election Service to Voter News Service to National Election Pool, it’s pretty much the same cast of characters.  Warren Mitofsky started exit polling in the 1960’s and he’s still in charge today.

So, why does Freeman have such faith in these polls? Even John Zogby said that the non-transparency of the work done by Warren Mitofsky and Edison Media Research was highly unethical. And Mitofsky himself has issued nonsensical statements about the 2004 election results. Does Freeman want to believe the polls because it helps prove a point he’s trying to make – that voting results were rigged? There’s other data that he could use in that regard. Or, is there something more at play here? We’ve had more than one instance of the guys in white hats (i.e., Dr. Roy Saltman and the folks at MIT) doing good work initially and then going over to the dark side. It’s almost like a bait and switch kind of thing.

I called Professor Freeman to inquire. I was polite and businesslike, but the conversation lasted less than a minute. “Don’t talk to me. Don’t contact me. Don’t speak to me again,” he said. I was a bit stunned. I had obviously hit a nerve. Apparently, the professor is not accustomed to having his research methods questioned.  It’s an interesting attitude for a scientist. Or, is it his corporate background that kicked in? Anyway, he hit a nerve with me as well. I gave him a day to get back to me with an explanation for why he has so much faith in the networks’ exit polls. He didn’t bother.

Freeman gives his readers a set of false choices: either believe the polls or believe the election results. He doesn’t offer the third alternative–don’t believe either. Sure, I think that Bush lost the election. But, I’m not going to be intellectually dishonest in order to prove it.  I’m not going to give total credibility to exit poll data from the networks’ completely non-transparent National Election Pool and then turn around and give no credibility to election results from our equally non-transparent election system. Both should be treated with equal scrutiny, if not complete contempt.

But, Freeman isn’t alone.  There’s a virtual cottage industry of analysts gorging themselves on exit poll data as if it were real. What’s going on here? Is it just a bunch of well-intentioned but sensitive scientists trying to prove a point based on unverifiable data? Or, is it something else? Are we being set up to have total faith in a completely bogus system of exit polls around the world? I have learned that in this business a person can,t be too suspicious.

One thing is certain, if these so-called analysts think they can protect our right to vote through the use of unverifiable exit polls, they’re delusional. Even if they get a third party to conduct a more transparent exit poll than what Mitofsky conducts (which even I’ve thought about), it still cannot take the place of free and fair elections.

By-the-way, the right wingers of this world aren’t the only ones who use exit polls in nefarious ways.  Last year’s Venezuelan elections were buffeted by competing exit polls from the left and the right. At the end of the day I wonder if anyone noticed that the ballots were never counted. That’s right. President Chavez ordered up his new touchscreen voting machines complete with ballot printers, but then never bothered to count the ballots. There were some spot audits and quick counts according to the Carter Center, but no real counting of the ballots. It’s a common occurrence. In this past presidential election, the state of Nevada didn’t count their machine produced paper ballots either.

And, therein lies the unavoidable truth. The only poll that counts is the counting of the ballots… at your local poll on Election Day. See is believing. Be there or be square, Professor Freeman.

LYNN LANDES is one of the nation’s leading journalists on voting technology and democracy issues. Readers can find her articles at EcoTalk.org. Lynn is a former news reporter for DUTV and commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Contact info: lynnlandes@earthlink.net