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Layers of Conspiracies

[ 51 ] September 25, 2012 |

Just a brief set of additional points on the poll skewing theory, which I understand to be that a wide array of polling organizations (excluding Rasmussen and periodically Gallup) are highly susceptible to Democratic lobbying, and have modified their procedures in order to make it appear more likely that Obama is well ahead of Romney. Queries:

  1. Why are such a wide array of organizations susceptible to Democratic pressure, but not to Republican? What renders Rasmussen immune to such pressure?
  2. Given that polling organizations have determined, because of this pressure, to report findings that they must know are false, why don’t they do a better job of covering their tracks? Why report the accurate cross-tabs at all?
  3. Given that polling organizations have determined, because of this pressure, to report findings that they must know are false, why are they bothering to conduct polling at all? Why not just go the Research 2000 route and make it all up?
  4. If the results on November 6 closely resemble the expectations of the polls, will the GOPsters currently devouring this theory a) recognize that they were being had, or b) adopt the belief that the conspiracy was successful, and that campaign of misinformation discouraged some significant percentage of Republican voters?

I think I know the answer to the fourth question.

The discussion in the comment thread here is interesting for the comparison with Democratic attitudes in 2004. Democrats certainly expressed skepticism about Bush’s lead, for two reasons. First, there was a widespread (but not apparently well-founded) belief that undecideds tend to break for the challenger, and that if Kerry was within twoish points of Bush he stood an excellent chance of winning the election. Second, people were beginning to develop an appreciation of the cell phone effect, which was believed to favor Kerry due to the demographics of cell phone ownership in 2004. Apparently, there’s more empirical support for the latter than for the former, although it didn’t turn out to be a major factor in 2004. [Update: Thers offers an artifact of the skewing obsession from 2004].

What differentiates the Democratic beliefs in 2004 from their Republican counterparts in 2012 is the reliance on conspiracy theory; Democrats were surely over-optimistic in 2004, but (and I’m sure there were exceptions), didn’t tend to believe that the polls were being intentionally skewed in order to discourage participation. Democratic conspiracy theories in 2004 were of a different flavor, involving suspicion that the administration would create some sort of national security justification for delaying or ignoring the election, and in general received little mainstream attention. The Republican theory is considerably more elaborate, involving a widespread effort at intentional deception undertaken not only by the Democratic Party, but also a host of independent polling firms.

If Mickey Kaus were still alive, and had he ever been able to apply his critical faculties to the GOP, he might have referred to the incubation of such theories as “cocooning.” But I suppose we’ll never know…

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Comments (51)

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  1. firefall says:

    Why not just go the Research 2000 Rasmussen route and make it all up?

    FTFY

  2. Dan Nexon says:

    In fairness, I remember how in 2004 liberal bloggers (particularly at Kos) were obsessed with “correcting” supposed partisan skew in the polls, which is part of the conspiracy theory here. But, IIRC, the claims never went so far as to assert corruption — just systematic bias.

  3. scott says:

    If the November results mirror the polls, conservatives will take it as evidence supporting their theory of rampant (if wholly unproven) voter fraud and double down on their disenfranchisement efforts.

  4. rea says:

    If the results on November 6 closely resemble the expectations of the polls, will the GOPsters currently devouring this theory a) recognize that they were being had, or b) adopt the belief that the conspiracy was successful, and that campaign of misinformation discouraged some significant percentage of Republican voters?

    Or c) decide that Obama stole the election by widespread voter fraud

  5. Dev Zero says:

    Were it not for the fact that Billy Kristol, Brooksie, TCMDJL (aka Peggers), and several other GOP Illuminati are crying into their beer^h^h^h^h cognac, I’d be wondering if the GOP and Diebold might be setting the stage for massive vote suppression and vote theft come November.

    Perhaps Billy et al. didn’t get the memo?

    Why, yes, I am paranoid. What is your point?

    • Kronkheit says:

      Yes. Attacking the accuracy of polls is integral to the republican voter suppression strategy. That is, if Obama loses due to voter suppression tactics, even though polls show he should be winning, the accuracy of those polls must be invalidated in advance to ensure acceptance of the spurious election results.

  6. Josh says:

    I thought Kerry would win ’cause he’d get Florida, that’s it. He didn’t, I was wrong, he lost, the end. No conspiracy needed. However, if Romney wins in November…

    • howard says:

      josh, i was literally going to say the same thing, except my choice was ohio.

      and the point is, part of the belief in a kerry victory potential was that it was clear that rove was running up the popular vote in the red states, where all those marginal votes didn’t add up to a single marginal electoral vote, whereas kerry was very close to a couple of states that if he won, he’d win.

    • Barry says:

      “I thought Kerry would win ’cause he’d get Florida, that’s it. He didn’t, I was wrong, he lost, the end. No conspiracy needed. However, if Romney wins in November…”

      Note that ~ a hundred thousand votes in Ohio made the difference, and much of this was due to some serious late-game GOTV efforts, including putting gay marriage bans on the ballot.

      • SFAW says:

        much of this was due to some serious late-game GOTV efforts polling place shenanigans

        Fixed

      • JRoth says:

        Yeah, this is the weird part of the parallel – Dems were clearly not mistaken to think that the race would be closer than polling suggested – if not for the butterfly ballot in 2000, 2004 would have been the closest election* since 1960 (if not longer). Whereas 2012 is shaping up to be at the blowout end of the spectrum.

        The other thing – and I’ve never really seen a plausible explanation** – is that Bush’s favorability was never above 50%. Except for the first week of November. And then it went right back down, and was never positive in his entire second term. It was an anomaly, and one that would reasonably lead to assumptions of defeatability.

        * by number of votes needed to throw the EV, which is the only relevant measure until EV is abolished

        ** people have pointed to DHS alerts, and maybe the bin Laden tape that came out, but I’ve never read any detailed discussion of it.

  7. J.W. Hamner says:

    Of the amateurs who know just enough about polling and statistics to be dangerous, I think inaccurate weighting is probably the #1 complaint… so it’s not that surprising to see somebody to make a website about it. Positing a vast conspiracy is obviously nuts, but as you point out in the discussion of 2004, it’s not necessary to rely on one to make a marginally plausible case that there is a systematic error happening.

    That said, when you are have roughly a gajillion polls updated every few days by tons of different organizations with divergent philosophies and methodologies… you really have too much data for the results to be off by very much. Obviously there are better and worse ways to aggregate, but 8 point swings? Uhm, no.

  8. FMguru says:

    Well, in 2004 liberals underestimated the scope and effectiveness of BushRoveCo.’s stealthy GOTV effort that focussed on evangelical churches. And Kerry did come within a slim margin in OH from winning in 2004 – a margin provided by the profoundly partisan Republican SoS, who used the power of his office to do everything he could to tilt the election to Bush.

    What was the name of the website in 2004 that was the go-to place for complicated-sounding explanations of how Bush being up +2 in the polls really mean that Kerry was pulling ahead, because of some combination of the PVI and incumbency effect and phase of the moon? I forget its name, but I do remember checking it all the time.

    2008 also featured the widespread liberal belief that Diebold was going to rig the election for Team Red, and that the whole thing was already in the bag. I also remember Glenn Reynolds et al arguing in October that the polls were biased against Republicans, and offering as proof that many polling orgainzations were based in New York City or Washington DC.

    • Thlayli says:

      2008 also featured the widespread liberal belief that Diebold was going to rig the election for Team Red,…

      I still hear that about this election, and quite frankly I’m tired of it.

      If anyone has any evidence that rigged Diebold machines have actually altered an election, please post a link here. If you don’t, then STFU.

      • Dave says:

        Regardless of that, it still looks to almost everyone with a pulse out here that the USA is remarkably shit at organising the exercise of universal suffrage. Just sayin’

      • Njorl says:

        I think that is unwarranted. I don’t think there have been rigged elections, and I doubt anyone will try to rig this election with Diebold machines. However, the potential for someone to do so and get away with it is unacceptably high. Those machines should not be used.

        We’re at the point now where over a billion dollars are spent on a presidential race in total. Some individuals in this country have tens of millions of dollars of their personal fortunes at stake dependent on the results of the election. This amount of money will cause corruption. It is inescapable. The process should be insulated from that corruption in every way possible.

    • Anon21 says:

      Was it maybe http://www.electoral-vote.com/? That place had me convinced that Kerry was going to win Ohio and the election.

  9. somethingblue says:

    What renders Rasmussen immune to such pressure?

    Sheer force of will.

    Also, they love America, unlike some.

    • Sana says:

      We are a bunch of volunteers and oinnpeg a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with useful info to work on. You have done a formidable process and our whole community will be thankful to you.

  10. angry bitter drunk says:

    Ohio in 2004 was probably every bit as rigged as Floriduh in 2000, but since Ralph Nader wasn’t prominent in ’04, I guess none of you care.

    Damn. I thought I was over last week’s hubbub.

    • Prodigal says:

      That’s ok; at least you admitted that Nader threw the 2000 election to Bush so it’s all good.

    • spencer says:

      Floriduh

      Oh fuck off with that shit.

    • Humanities Grad says:

      Speaking as an Ohioan, I should register my disagreement with this statement.

      Bush won in 2004 in Ohio because his GOTV effort was better than Kerry’s. During 2008, I talked to some of my local Obama campaign staff. Per their account, Kerry’s people thought they had Ohio in the bag, and didn’t work as obsessively as the Obama folks did four years later to dig up every blue vote possible.

      What killed Kerry was his abysmal showing in rural Ohio. In the county where I used to live, Kerry got 17% of the vote in 2004. By contrast, with a much more active campaign and a more favorable climate, Obama got 37% of the same county’s vote in 2008. Multiply that by dozens of rural counties, most of which saw something similar happen, and throw in a GOP GOTV that was actually pretty good in ’04, and you’ve got Bush’s margin of victory.

      • Joseph Slater says:

        As another Ohio resident, I agree with Humanities grad.

        Also, in terms of Republicans memes of 2008, don’t forget “The ‘Bradley effect’ means the polls are inaccurate, and McCain will actually kill Obama in PA and elsewhere!”

        • Joshua says:

          Oh yea, I forgot about the “white people don’t want to sound racist so they lie to pollsters” effect.

          I’m surprised we haven’t heard more of that this year.

      • NonyNony says:

        Yup. Another Ohio resident and this is exactly the case. Sure the Republicans did what they could to mess with people – Ken Blackwell being secretary of state helped no one – but the Kerry team did not take Ohio seriously with the GOTV efforts.

        I’m not sure I even realized in ’04 that this was true. It dawned on me in ’08 when I saw the Obama team go to work in Ohio. THAT’S what a GOTV effort in Ohio needs to look like (and it seems like they’re doing it again this time around – I’m really hoping that the next generation of Democratic campaign operatives have figured out that GOTV is the single most important thing on their list of to do items, because it is).

      • MSB says:

        I was in Cleveland for the week before the election through election day in 04 and this was my experience as well. When we finished canvassing on election day we were watching early returns in a pizza parlor and a waiter who worked there came up to us and said “you guys are for Kerry, huh? Why’d you decide to come all this way to work for him?” And we went into a litany of Bush-bashing arguments, the war, where’s Osama/let him escape in Tora Bora, took his eye off the ball. And I, having spent the week trying to tailor my message to my audience, started in about Bush’s tax cuts for rich people and how bad the recovery had been. And when we were finished they guy said something to the effect of “yeah, I hear you on all of that. And you can look around this neighborhood and know that the economy sucks. But at the end of the day Bush just makes me feel safe.” And I knew right then that Ohio was going for Bush.

  11. Alex says:

    Interestingly, this is a French political trope. It used to be very common on the Left to blame everything on the “pouvoir media-sondagier” and claim that the polls were made up. These days, you get conservatives whining that the polls are rigged against them. (The polls called the last two presidential elections precisely, although they didn’t do so well on the down-ticket candidates, which is what you’d expect due to the smaller sample size.)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Mickey Kaus is dead?

  13. The Dark Avenger says:

    Kaus is alive and putting out trash on the Daily Caller website.

    You know, the credible one where Megan McArdle interviews people who aren’t familiar with her background as a spokesperson for the 1%.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      1)McArdle doesn’t write for the Daily Caller.
      2)The idea that Paul did something wrong in promoting his book at the non-Daily Caller website remains really dumb.

  14. [...] I don’t think there’s any question that an Obama win will unleash a tsunami of wingnut madness. They’re convinced he’s going to take their guns, he’s waiting to put them in FEMA camps, and that hoards of fake black voters resulted in his win. [...]

  15. actor212 says:

    I think, if anything, the polling has been skewed to make the election look closer than it is, and I think that’s a deliberate attempt to a) give the media something to report on that they can do in their sleep (e.g. not think at all about), and b) defuse “serious” complaint from the right about bias.

    For “serious,” please read as “endless temper tantrum-throwing that might actually get people to believe the polls are skewed.” Squeaky wheel and all that.

    In other words, polling firms have taken a page out of the media playbook and are overreporting the losing side’s totals in a tee-ball like attempt to seem objective.

    I include Nate Silver in this, as I think his popular vote projections are full of this bias-lite.

  16. IOKIYAR(ight-wing) says:

    Republicans are trying to steal the 2012 election and mask it by pre-condemning the polls that would show that theft.

    Bonus: If Republicans fail to steal the election, they can use their pre-condemning of polls as an excuse to claim that the Dems succeeded in doing what Republicans were trying to do: Steal the election.

    Note: Republicans theft of voting rights of uncounted thousands and thousands of voters may be what Republicans are “counting” on with their claims dismissing polls.

    • Cody says:

      Indeed. Perhaps the pollsters don’t realize how many of the people they’re getting answers from are going to be denied their right to vote on Election Day.

      On a totally coincidental note, most of those people are going to be Democrat voting.

  17. smartone says:

    You are forgetting why the undecided ended up breaking for Bush
    Bin Laden released a tape right before the election
    The CIA analysis of the video led them to the consensus view that the tape was designed strategically to help President Bush win reelection in 2004

    It did the trick and Bush got a surge of late breaking undecided voters

  18. Avedon says:

    I don’t trust any election that doesn’t use paper ballots, hand-counted on the night.
    http://sideshow.me.uk/images/machineerrors.jpg

    • dev zero says:

      http://jhalderm.com/pub/papers/dcvoting-fc12.pdf

      “Attacking the DC Internet Voting System”

    • dev zero says:

      Also, too:

      http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=1808817

      “Malfunction and Malfeasance: A Report on the Electronic Voting Machine Debacle”

    • dev zero says:

      Also, too:

      http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/09/27/whats-the-frequency-kenneth-3/

      In particular, Theory #3:

      Nine Republican governors have the power to put Mitt Romney in the White House, even if Barack Obama wins the popular vote.
      With their secretaries of state, they control the electronic vote count in nine key swing states: Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Arizona, and New Mexico. Wisconsin elections are under the control of the state’s Government Accountability Board, appointed by the governor.
      In tandem with the GOP’s massive nation-wide disenfranchisement campaign, they could—-in the dead of election night—-flip their states’ electronic votes to Romney and give him a victory in the Electoral College.

      As Cole says: “… truthout.org …”, but adds:

      Does it really sound so crazy that a party that has spent four years disenfranchising voters in swing states RUN BY REPUBLICANS, working to change voting rules, and basically openly trying to fix elections, all with a nascent uprising of “tea partiers” funded by ultra-rich corporate sponsors, would maybe have an astroturf campaign to invalidate polling in order to steal an election?
      Fifteen years ago I would have laughed at this assertion. Then I saw Bush V. Gore. Then I saw aluminum tubes convince me and others to invade some random country. Then Terri Schiavo. Then Citizens United.

      This seems right on-point to me: if they’re willing to steal votes one way, why would they hesitate to steal votes other ways?

      The Truthout article also offers a possible answer to my question at comment #6: why are the Illuminati not in on the fix? … because they don’t need to know; the fewer who know, the less likely a leak.

      And yes, I am paranoid. Why do you ask?

  19. [...] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}Several days ago in these very pages, discussion ensued regarding the latest conservative attempt to rewrite reality through re-weighting polls to one [...]

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