Chapter 13: Good Polling to Keep Democracy Alive and Elections Honest
By Alan F. Kay, PhD
© 2004, (fair use with attribution and copy to author)
Sept. 29, 2004
In Chapter 10, we saw the utility of often including authority figures in testing support for policy. Since adequate questions tend to be lengthy, to hold respondents attention, authorities need to be identified in a few brief words. Political spinmasters would love to trick the public into elevating their client into the position of top authority in an issue area. This means that they seek to bias the brief descriptions of opposing authorities so as to favor their client. As we saw in Chapter 10, such bias is readily observed. The resulting spin is easy to uncover.
In the political life of the United States, a handful of top national officials have learned to play an aggressive power game that in recent years has become essential for rising to the ranks of the very few who control the government’s agenda and who, as long as they are successful, become entrenched in powerful, self-perpetuating roles satisfying to themselves, their parties, and their financial supporters. These top officials determine what government does and, accordingly, have a much greater impact on the entire country than the minor game of designating authority figures in poll questions. Yet the two are related.
Public-interest polling has revealed in the past decade or so that there is a total disconnect in all major issue areas between what consensus levels (67%+) of the public with good reason want and the governance that top officials deliver. What we want is not what we get. Top officials, who themselves often conduct excellent polls, as well as those political elites who follow public polls closely, seem unaware of the total disconnect. How can that be? Clues to the answer coming from public-interest polling and political developments have been analyzed, sorted, and finally put together in a clear and astounding story. Now, for the first time in print, this chapter reveals how top leaders of both parties have been unaware of the total disconnect and have managed to ignore it without ever being challenged by the news media or political elites. Here is the story from the beginning:
Americans Talk Issues (ATI) was organized in 1987 by me as a non-profit, public service cooperative project initially to help all candidates running for president in 1988 find out what the public wanted the new president to do on national security matters by conducting a series of bipartisan polls. The project used small, balanced teams of top polling and issue experts to design and analyze the polls. The findings were widely distributed. By early 1988, an ATI team headed by Maddy Hochstein, of the Daniel Yankelovich Group, had visited all 13 campaign headquarters (seven Democrat and six Republican) and explained ATI’s offer to all at no charge: (1) to test national security questions that the candidates might wish to have included in the surveys without publicly revealing the source of the questions, (2) to give the campaigns private briefings on survey results as requested, and (3) to release the results of each survey to the campaigns before the public release. Through an advisor that was the contact person with the ATI project, 12 candidates submitted questions. The lone exception, Mike Dukakis, was a little surprising since Mike’s pollster, Marttila and Kiley, was ATI’s Democratic pollster. To facilitate confidentiality, the questions went only to Maddy and to me. I kept my copies in a secure place to prevent leaks. When the campaigns were well underway and most of the candidates’ questions had already been covered in the briefings, I took out my confidential copy of the candidates’ original questions.
Sitting alone, I carefully studied them. They covered many topics from all different points of view, not unlike the ATI surveys themselves. But something more important became very clear. Clearly without any contact between themselves, the candidates’ advisors had asked ATI to find out in effect if the public believed what the candidates were saying. Did the public agree with the national security statements and positions that were then coming out publicly in their own speeches and releases? This was not what the ATI surveys were supposed to be for. As mentioned above, the ATI surveys were designed and the question wording developed to ask the people what they wanted the next president to do; they were “what-to-do” questions. The candidates’ questions were all bent on asking how should the candidates best express publicly their own convictions on issues. They were questions on “what-to-say” to get elected, not “what-to-do” if elected. I was beginning to understand that the different purposes of the two kinds of questions lead to very different survey designs and findings, and if the surveys were properly conducted, the “what-to-do” public-interest polling surveys showed a public view that was persistent, internally consistent, and resistant to change by counter-arguments. It was understandable that candidates would misuse this opportunity, but it made me sad to think that the candidates wanted to get confirmation that their positions were acceptable to the voters rather than finding what the voters themselves wanted. The same pattern was pretty much repeated in the 1992 election.
Going into campaign, behavior a little more deeply was something I noted without fully understanding until many years later its significance. Each candidate’s advisor asked mainly questions about the policy proposals being tested in speeches by the other candidates, not their own. It took me many more years of survey research to fully understand that the reason for that was that each candidate pretty much knew what policies and governance approaches they were going to use if elected, yes, primarily the policies that their financial backers desired, whether explained through lobbyists or in person.
By the time of the 1996 election, ATI had discovered something new: campaign pollsters familiar with the art and science of survey and question design, if they polled enough, if they covered an issue from various points of view and studied the effect of question wording variations, would eventually find from “what-to-say” polls pretty much what you could find more accurately, completely, convincingly and quickly from surveys oriented around “what-to-do”, which by 1992 we had dubbed “public-interest polling.”
Beginning after the 1994 election, these effects were starting to be found by campaign pollsters working for real candidates. Let’s start with the Bill Clinton story.
In his book, “Behind the Oval Office,” pollster Dick Morris, explained how he designed and conducted a program that played a significant role in re-electing Clinton in 1996. Morris convinced Clinton that the program would get him re-elected and for that goal Clinton was ready to do almost anything. The program required testing public support for hundreds of new policy proposals that Clinton himself liked. Morris gathered these proposals one-on-one from Clinton and his Cabinet-level advisors during a period of about a year. The program required sequential media blitzing of one major metropolitan area after another (excluding Washington, New York, and Los Angeles where the political media and the Republicans were concentrated and might awaken the Republicans to start an early counter-program of their own). Prior to each blitz, Morris conducted quiet polling within each metropolitan area, found one or more proposals that were strongly supported (usually 75%+) by the local public, and from these, with Clinton’s help, chose one. The heart of the blitz was a TV spot of Clinton explaining and promoting the chosen proposal that he and Morris already knew, the public really liked.
The ultimate cost of the program was $85 million, largely spent on the TV spots and other media promotion. After each metropolitan area blitz, Morris again polled to show the president’s popularity generally rising slightly in the area – Morris took note of increases as small as 1%. As the program continued, the cumulative effect boosted Clinton’s nationwide approval rating into the 50-60% range, quite high for a president beleaguered by growing scandals.
Clinton had decided that selling White House access was the only way he could raise the enormous amount of money the program demanded. Presidents had been selling access for years, but never on such a large scale.
Republican accusations, amplified by the mainstream news media, started an avalanche of scandals that dogged Clinton’s second term – initially selling Lincoln bedroom overnights and White House breakfasts/coffees to $100,000 plus campaign donors and later the Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, affairs, et al. The scandals led to legal challenges beginning with investigations of Clinton’s involvement in Arkansas corruption, dominated by the impeachment hearings and still dogging him as he left office in 2001.
Morris’ polls, which cost only a fraction of the $85 million, obtained findings that accurately showed what the public wanted in the many issue areas they touched on. They fall under the heading of Governance Advice discussed on pp.58-61 of Locating Consensus for Democracy, where it explains why it is fair to label such polls as “public-interest polls.” One caveat – I have not seen the precise wording of the questionnaires and so cannot make as definitive judgment as I otherwise would. Morris, like many in Washington, has low ethical standards, as evidenced by: (1) His foolish, adolescent affair with a prostitute that forced Clinton to drop him as pollster for a time and brought Morris lots of personal and marital trouble; (2) His total acceptance of polling on the Internet, described in his book “VOTE.COM,” without once mentioning the main problem, not yet fully resolved, on using the Internet for surveys: how to obtain a credible unbiased sample of all sectors of the public. A demonstration of the dominating effect of this problem is given in the section Prodigy Example of p.341 Locating Consensus for Democracy. As he was positioning himself to enter a huge potential market for polling on the Internet, Morris simply failed to mention this problem in VOTE.COM.
After the election, Andrew Kohut, a media-prominent pollster with the Pew Foundation, showed that Clinton’s bump-up from the Morris’ program had faded by election day. Of course, it might have faded even more if Morris’ program had not happened. Clinton’s ratings for doing a good job as president stayed high throughout 1994-2000, in spite of general public disgust with his fundraising methods, his womanizing, and his legalistic arguments to deflect accountability for his personal behavior. This suggests that Morris’ program did have an important effect. There is no way to measure the difference between what happened and what might have happened.
A rash of new developments in polling occurred in the 2000 campaign. Let’s look now at the Republican side. Fred Steeper of Market Strategies in Michigan has been ATI’s Republican pollster and a member of the ATI polling design team since 1987. He was George H.W. Bush pollster in both the 1988 and 1992 elections and was George W. Bush’s pollster in the 2000 campaign and presidency to date.
Mocking his opponents, Gore and Clinton, for relying on polls to decide what to do as president, Bush explains that, in contrast, he “makes decisions based on sound principles,” not polls. In fact, he quietly and very effectively uses polls to find out when and how he should speak publicly about what he wants to do, aiming for maximum public support for his policies and actions. He does it often. Polls for his benefit were run in 2001 at levels twice what Clinton spent in his first year.
Bush told Steeper at the beginning of the campaign that polling would not be very important for him because he is a leader and does not need to ask the public what people want him to do. He knew what he would do if elected. He needed to know how to get elected by best stating his positions in ways that the public understands and appreciates. He had to sell himself and his ideas, and only for that did he need polling. During the campaign, Bush conducted polls with the viewpoint of learning “What do I have to say to keep the public as happy as possible?” These are polls on what to say to get elected. When continued after the election, they are essentially the same, “What do I have to say to get re-elected?”
As the campaign progressed, Steeper realized that if he put together what all the public’s responses in the Republican polls in each area meant he could tell Bush a lot about what the public wanted too. This was not unexpected. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the ATI polling team had already begun to see that. Steeper thought of a clever metaphor describing the process as “connecting the dots” in analogy with those “connect the dots” puzzles which reveal the outline of, say, an elephant only when you connect the dots by the numbers.
When gathered at poll finding briefings that Steeper conducted, neither Bush nor any of his top advisors took notice of how to “connect the dots” and would not welcome an attempt by Steeper to do that. It would have sounded like Steeper was saying to the distinguished candidate and his advisors, “You’re all wrong.” Consultants who try to upstage top campaign advisors and say anything that sounds like, “You’re all wrong” are usually shown the door – permanently. In contrast, we saw in Chapter 3, that when Steeper is working for or advising public-interest pollsters, he knows very well how to do “what-should-I-do” question design and wording. Steeper gives his clients, presidents or policy mavens, what they want.
In three presidential campaigns, Democrats Clinton and Gore, and in one senatorial campaign, Hillary Clinton, never had an advisor who understood the full picture. Their leading polling advisors were in sequence, Stanley B Greenberg, Dick Morris, and Mark J. Penn. It was not until he was out of office after the 2000 election did Bill and Hillary come to appreciate the value of understanding the people’s wants through good polling. This does not mean that the people will benefit much, since the way that politicians will use that understanding will do more for enhancing their own careers than satisfying the public’s legitimate needs.
The evidence that the thinking of the Clintons has evolved in this way came from the very helpful article, “Presidency by Poll,” by John F. Harris, a Washington Post staff reporter, published on pp. 9-10 of the Jan. 8-14, 2001, issue of the Washington Post National Weekly Edition, that came out just after Bush had become president-elect. Harris explained that since the 1996 election, Clinton had become a devoted aficionado of polling, analyzing the meaning of polls like an expert. In other words, in Steeper’s language, Clinton was connecting the dots.
Clinton himself was following the polls of Mark J. Penn, who was originally brought in by Dick Morris to take responsibility for the polling required in Morris program that put Clinton over the top in 1996. In the article, lightly edited, Harris stated:
“Clinton had fired his early pollster, Stanley Greenberg. Four current and former Clinton aides say the president told them he preferred his new pollsters, Morris and Penn, because they do not merely diagnose problems – they tell me what to do.” This confirmed what I wrote on p. 402 of Locating consensus for Democracy that Greenberg told me six years earlier, ‘I take it as a badge of honor that I never told the president what to do.’ Greenberg’s attitude on this point had not changed in all that time.
Despite the enormous value of his research, Harris did not recognize that the difference between the success of Penn-advised candidates who learn “what-to-do” and the failure of Greenberg-advised candidates who only learn “what-to-say” was due to these two different approaches to polling. This deficiency is best remedied I think by repeating Harris’ closing conclusions, verbatim, without omissions, in italics, within quotation marks, and interrupted in a few places by my comments in bold:
“While Penn was still Gore’s advisor, the two exchanged sharp words on whether ‘Clinton fatigue’ would be a major factor in the 2000 elections. Penn insisted the answer was no; Gore devoutly believed it was yes and fired Penn a few days later. Greenberg became a key advisor to Gore. Greenberg’s devotees believe Gore found his natural voice as a candidate only when he abandoned the tepid brand of politics Penn espoused.” [‘Tepid’ is the campaign advisors way of describing doing what the public wants rather than doing what they want, a development which gets advisors very excited. In any case, Gore fired Penn, took on Greenberg and lost the election. Most folks, right left, and center agree that Gore did not run as good a campaign as he could have. A better campaign, as well as a margin of popular support of 10%, rather than 1%, would certainly have elected him.]
“There was another candidate in 2000 who had been advised by important Democratic lobbyists and strategists to fire Penn but chose not to: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Penn’s role in her New York Senate campaign ruffled as many feathers as his White House work. All through 2000, an argument brewed between Hillary Clinton’s consultants in Washington – an uneasy alliance of Penn and media consultants in Washington – and her campaign staff in New York. The New Yorkers wanted her to spend more time promoting her biography and addressing voters’ doubts about her personality; Penn insisted that she talk almost exclusively about issues.” [Public-interest polling has found over and over again that the public is much more concerned with what will be done on the major issues, which affect many more of them, than on items that have little or no direct effect]. “Things got so bad, campaign aides say, that last summer the candidate angrily summoned both sides in the White House to order an end of the feuding. In the end, Hillary Clinton’s 55% victory” [compared to Gore's anemic popular vote plurality over Bush’s of 0.5%] left Penn vindicated. Late in Clinton’s term, even officials in the White House who once scorned it have become reconciled to the Morris-Penn style of politics. [That is finding out what people really want on the issues. Even Gore probably began to rethink what he might have done better.] “Ultimately, Penn succeeded because his notion of politics meshed perfectly with that of the president who was his patron. ‘I believe strongly in Democratic activism if you do it the right way,’ Penn says. The right way is one that gets results through consensus. [i.e. heals the disconnect]. The wrong way is one that seeks to divide the country” [i.e. chooses policy without knowing or caring what the public wants.]
One big question remains. Will a credible candidate catch on to how best to get elected president – or will they all stay stupid for many more elections? Until that happens, democracy in the United States will remain tenuous and corrupted.
Both Clinton and George W. Bush by the turn of the century had finally understood the possibilities for using public-interest (“what-do-I-do”) polling, as well as the traditional standby for presidential candidates, “what-should-I-say” polling, but there is a big difference. Clinton is out of office and Bush is aiming at a second term in 2004. What about future presidential elections? Would a competent and attractive candidate who chose to base his/her campaign on public-interest “what-do-I-do” polls walk off with the big prize? Not necessarily, as we can see from examining the electability problems of a couple of well-known former candidates.
If ever a presidential candidate had clear and popular positions on major issues, it was Ralph Nader in the 2000 campaign. Nader has immense knowledge of the bad practices of corporations, the need for environmental protection, and waste and corruption in government. His campaign consisted of making those evils known.
Nader had major weaknesses in areas beyond and outside of his policy positions. If I, a public-interest polling maven, were advising Nader on how to frame his 2000 campaign to rise above the single-digit support level, I would have recommended:
(1) Your campaign efforts should downplay issues. Only occasionally show your impressive grasp of issues.
(2) Most of your energy, resources and time should focus on explaining, clearly and consistently, who you are and how you would be effective in the White House. Frankly most people, including me, have trouble visualizing you being president. Making a good speech, yes. With a hostile Congress and a Republican-leaning court system, how would you get a law of your choosing passed? And if you did, how would you get public support and compliance that could stand up against the clout of the corporations? What in your background, personality or character prepares you to handle the large range of difficult situations that will reach your desk? You would have had to address these questions directly, honestly and compellingly to be effective in raising your ratings. I don’t know if you could do it. If you could, you would have risen rapidly into the double-digit support column, which was your basic intention for yourself and for the Green Party.
In January 2004, I along with many others were called by Nader, asking our opinion on whether he should run again. I strongly advised him not to, based largely on the points made in this paragraph.
Gore’s deficiency was somewhat similar. He kept changing who he was. If he was “Mr. Environment,” how come he and Clinton achieved so little improvement in environmental policy in eight years? Was he a Washington insider or a good old boy from Tennessee? Did he take an easy job in the military during the Vietnam War or was he a patriot performing well the job assigned? What did his changing appearance, clothes and facial hair, mean about who he was? He failed to define himself for the public.
President George W. Bush, much less knowledgeable about many issues and less articulate, during the 2000 campaign could respond to an inquiry about his heavy drinking, without denying any allegation, yet be absolved because his response explained who he was both then and now. He said, “When I was young and foolish, I did foolish things,” implying now, older and wiser, “no more foolish things.” That was apparently all that the media needed to put to rest any concern for the threat of Bush recidivism in office. Bush’s drinking was hardly mentioned again in the mainstream media.
Steeper’s briefings of Bush have been revealed in detail by the course of action Bush and his national security advisors took in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. Bush knew that well over 70% of the American people will favor using whatever force it takes to topple rogue dictators guilty of heinous crimes (limited to international terrorism/drug trafficking, acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and gross violation of human rights of his own people), provided these three conditions are met
1. all peaceful means to do so have failed or U.S. troops have already been deployed
2. and the action has been endorsed by the United Nations or supported by a broad group of allies
3. and the war has a high-minded purpose (specifically NOT just to acquire access to oil).
Bush and his advisors learned this lesson well, but not perfectly as this incident shows: When Bush spoke to the UN General Assembly in 2002, he argued carefully, forcefully and quite persuasively for UN support for an Iraq invasion. But trying not to risk losing his base domestic supporters, those who enjoy UN bashing, he appended to his main argument the admonition that if the United Nations did not vote to support the U.S.-led coalition-of-the-willing, the United States would ignore the United Nations and the United Nations would become irrelevant. He was accepting the implication that doing so would violate U.S. responsibilities to the United Nations, tantamount to a treaty violation in the eyes of most UN members. This action alone united most of the world in opposition to supporting the U.S. invasion and doomed what would have been necessary to hold support for the invasion by the U.S. public in the 80%-90% range. Holding the support of more than a bare majority of Americans will be increasingly difficult as long as the United States is still in Iraq.
It is hard to believe that presidential candidates, from now on, will not also understand how to use both public-interest polling and “what-should-I-say” polls. It is sad that they will probably modify their positions secretly and as minimally as possible (as the current president has been doing) to conform to the teachings of public-interest polling while giving, as usual, top priority to financial backers’ demands and betting that the public would not feel too manipulated or too ignored to furnish enough support to deliver the presidency to them.
Would any of the current Democratic presidential candidates for 2004 do this or, even better, forgo the support of big financial backers? The early frontrunner, Howard Dean, seemed to be in tune with the public’s needs and wants without having particularly studied or commissioned public-interest polls, but as a medical doctor and a popular governor of a small state with successful terms as chairman of the Organization of U.S. Governors, both Democrats and Republicans, he was already well aware of what constituted populist positions. He found a way to finance his campaign without big backers. He was the only candidate untainted by not having sought or held a national political office. Distance from Washington insiders started as (and could have remained) the measure of “clean” in this election, where after a lifetime in his father’s political limelight, and after a full-term as president, Bush, who never held national political office previously, is now the consummate insider. Democratic primary voters, looking more to selecting the candidate that would be most likely to beat Bush, turned to Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate-elect, who is also certainly a Washington insider. With this two-person slate, “clean” will not mean “furthest from Washington.”
In the early Democratic primary debates, many populist and progressive ideas that resonate quite well with majorities of voters emerged and, since unseating Bush has been the top challenge for all the Democratic candidates, it is not surprising that the ideas from the various candidates converged considerably during the long Democratic debate period, but could never reach total agreement. Each had to maintain at least a few distinctions for responding to the perennial question, “What distinguishes you from the other candidates?”
A good way to follow the campaign, and current poll findings more generally, is to go on www.pollingreport.org which is updated almost daily, to see how goes “Bush vs. Kerry.” If you do this, you will know as accurately as the big name political pundits which horse is winning the race. Have fun. Place your bets carefully. After the election, current poll findings on socio-econo-political will enrich and deepen your understanding of when and why you agree/disagree with the public.
What happened in the 2000 election will be put in context after we examine the largest state-wide election ever conducted, the California governor recall election, of 2003, which benefited by learning from the mistakes of the Florida 2000 election employing novel techniques that are little known and should be an example for state secretaries of state and county supervisors of elections in 2004.
When it was clear that a petition to recall the governor had succeeded in forcing a special election, the California courts resolved an enormous range of contentious opinions on how the special election to recall and replace Gov. Gray Davis was to be conducted.
The election would proceed with this firm schedule:
|Election day:||Oct. 7|
|Certification of the vote by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, no later than:||Nov. 15|
|If Davis was recalled, the inauguration date of the new governor:||Nov. 17|
The ballot, it was agreed, was to have two parts. In Part 1, the voter was asked to vote “yes” (Gray Davis should be recalled) or “no” (he should not be). If, of those voting in Part 1, 50% or more voted “no,” Davis would serve out his remaining three-year term. If the number of “no” voters in Part 1 was less than 50%, the leading candidate in Part 2 would be governor-elect. Davis was prohibited from running in Part 2. Mindful of the imperative set by this tight schedule, draconian measures were put in place: no judicial challenge of the election outcome and no request for a recount.
The election could easily have turned out to be a fiasco. Everybody recognized that the votes cast to retain Davis as governor (“no” in Part 1), might well be less than 50% of the votes cast in Part 1, but still much greater than the votes cast for the leading candidate in Part 2. If public appeal were broadly distributed among the 163 candidates of Part 2, this might easily have resulted in a governor-elect whose vote total was less than 50%, possibly even less than 10%, of the votes cast for Davis in Part 1.
Though far-fetched, an even more disastrous outcome would have been possible. Davis, just shy of 50% of the vote in Part 1, might have had more votes cast favoring him than all the votes cast for all the candidates in Part 2, simply if more than half of the voters who voted in Part 1 failed to vote in Part 2. Those who cast a vote in Part 1 in the actual election were greater in number than those who cast a vote in Part 2, by an amount that turned out to be much smaller than 50%. Expressed as a percent of the total votes cast in Part 1, it was a mere 3.8%.
Of the votes cast in Part 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger captured a healthy plurality, 48.6%. It is reasonable to assume that the voters of California realized that in order to have a popularly elected governor rather than someone selected with little public approval as the result of a ridiculously quirky ballot process, they would somehow have to be in good agreement on who should replace Davis. Somehow, they were. After election day, political analysts and pundits explained to the world how, all things considered, Schwarzenegger really was quite a good choice, but none explained how the public had come together, only in the last week of the election, in apparent agreement on voting for his candidacy. Shelley and the 58 California county supervisors of elections were saved from a real fiasco by what could be called the “wisdom of the people.” They should be grateful.
The officials had to make sure, county by county, that on short notice there would be enough voting machines to handle what could be, and indeed was, a large turn-out. Eleven different makes and models of machines were certified as acceptable by Shelley, and each county quickly had to acquire and deploy a huge number of them and train precinct recruiters how to guide voters through the process. The officials received the support of an organization www.votewatch.org that trained volunteers on proper voting procedures to assist at precincts throughout the state, in preparation for going national with a similar service for the 2004 elections.
The Office of the Secretary of State developed a magnificent central website (www.ss.ca.gov). One lengthy page gave the characteristics and specifications of the certified voting machines and data on how they were arrayed county by county. Each county supervisor of elections, starting at the close of the election on Oct. 7, reported to the central website the current available totals of votes for both parts of the ballot (and two referenda also on the ballot following Part 2) – including votes cast in three unusual categories in a manner never before used in a large election. Any voter could vote at any precinct even if the voter was not accepted as being registered at that precinct, and such votes would be tallied in a “provisional” category in the county. “Unprocessed absentee” ballots were kept in an “absentee” category. A third category, labeled “destroyed ballots,” was fortunately inconsequentially small. When a provisional voter offered acceptable proof that s/he indeed should have been allowed to vote, that vote was added to the “provisional” category displayed on the appropriate page of the central website. Absentee and destroyed ballots were handled in a similar manner.
The total votes for the yes/no question of Part 1 and for each of the 163 candidates of Part 2, were displayed automatically updated every few minutes, 24 hours a day, from Oct. 7to Nov. 14. Any media observer – or interested person around the world – could access the website and see these latest totals slowly climb over the 38 day period, while percentages of the total vote changed amazingly little, less than ±0.1%.
The final votes were certified by Shelley in a way strange to all of us familiar with statewide polls, especially elections that got as much media coverage as this one. Though virtually everybody believed that Schwarzenegger was the governor-elect, nowhere did the certification state that. One could deduce who was governor-elect from looking at the data. The percentages showed that Schwarzenegger’s total exceeded that of Davis and the other leading candidates. But nowhere to be seen was the total number of votes of all 163 candidates, nor accurate percentages for many minor candidates. It is almost as if Shelley had told those preparing the certification documents, “Don’t add up the totals or figure the percentages for all the minor candidates. They’re not necessary and you might make a mistake. Those numbers could not change the outcome. No one could lodge a significant complaint. Don’t bother getting them accurate.” There was no bias visible in Shelley’s operation or documentation.
What a contrast to Florida’s secretary of state in 2000, Katherine Harris who twice on TV joyfully announced George W. Bush the winner in Florida by a paper-thin margin and thereby nationally by a single electoral vote. Harris was biased by her widely-known Republican activism in the campaign and made no apologies for these election follies that were her department’s responsibility:
|–||The butterfly ballot, which did not link the name in a straight line to the check-box for the candidate.|
|–||Printed advice on ballots that if followed would void the ballot. Example, “Be sure to vote on every page.”|
|–||Over 40,000 ballots cast but mysteriously never counted.|
|–||Registered voters prevented from voting when incorrectly told that they were not registered.|
|–||A massive campaign conducted by Harris to remove thousands of names from voting lists throughout Florida for dubious reasons, e.g. having names similar to the name of someone who might have once been convicted of what was a misdemeanor, but later made a felony under Florida law.|
After going to enormous lengths to run an unbiased election with a full 38 days to get the votes properly counted and the counts announced accurate to a single vote, Shelley had made an enormous and successful effort to avoid the Harris follies. The last thing that Shelley or anyone else in California of either party wanted was a repeat production.
The fundamental flaw of the California recall election was the two-part ballot. Of those voting in Part 1, 44.6% favored Davis. Of those voting in Part 2, 48.6% favored Schwarzenegger, and Schwarzenegger was the second choice of any voter who had already voted for Davis in Part 1. If 198,465 or more voters voted “no” in Part 1 and for Schwarzenegger in Part 2, then it would be true that based on first choice only, Davis had more votes than Schwarzenegger. If this were true, then, in the name of majority rule in a democracy, Davis should have been the winner and remained in office. The magic number, 198,465, was small, only 5.0% of the total pro-Davis vote. A full analysis showed that it is almost certain that the true desire of the majority of voters was to retain Davis as governor. The tiny uncertainty could easily have been eliminated by any recount that found 198,465 or more of those voting “no” in Part 1 and “Schwarzenegger” in Part 2. The rules laid down by the California courts prevented the recount, and thereby ignored the will of the majority and produced a failure of democracy. These conclusions are unaffected by the fact that from Oct. 8 on, probably no one had expected that Davis would remain as governor, even those few who may believe, as I do, that Davis was the voters’ first choice.
Three aspects of the ballots: design, instructions and layout for both California 2003 and Florida 2000 were bad and thwarted the will of the people. Thus, despite all the effort to avoid a Florida-like fiasco, California has been tarred by the same brush. To be fair to the individuals responsible, Harris should be covered with tar from head to toe; and Shelley, well, should have a little dab on his new white suit.
Why do I see things this way and almost nobody else does? I have had years of experience, often in collaboration with the best pollsters in the United States, designing, conducting and analyzing polls where the public was asked to choose the most favored from a bunch of choices offered. The choices could be for the favorite among policy proposals, election candidates, or whatever. The outcome is most reliable if the choices are all offered in the same frame.
A simple example illustrates why. Suppose a poll offers just three response choices, A, B, and C, which happen to be related in a not uncommon way, known as “cyclical preference.” This means that A is preferred over B, B is preferred over C, and C is preferred over A. If two questions are used, the first, A matched against B; and the second, the preferred A of the first question matched against C, then C becomes the most preferred of the three. Or put more generally, the choice that is tested only in the second question always wins. This, of course, is paradoxical, and impractical nonsense. The simple solution is to ask the public with all choices in a single question, “Which in a three-way match (and a level playing field) is preferred, A, B, or C?” The public will easily make its choice. The California recall election, commendable as it was in many ways, should not have had two parts.
The most compelling, detailed analysis of potential national election corruption appeared in an article by Bob Fitrakis of the Columbus Free Press, “Diebold, Electronic Voting and the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy,” no longer available on the website of truthout.org.
“The Crisis of the 2004 Election,” was described in the opening of this book. The spin – or lies – spun by politicians, their advisors, their financial backers, and the mainstream media, examined in all its dimensions in the first three chapters, has created not just a struggle, but an unholy, crazy war of the elites versus the people. This war has developed slowly over decades, allowing clever pundits and politicians to make the case that the horrible stories of injustice and violence, whether presented in gory detail by the media or by the injustices and violence that many of us have witnessed first hand, are normal or no worse than in the past.
It is true that we Americans have rallied time and again to overcome differences and failures, redirected the nation back on to the right track, and succeeded in recreating and sustaining an America that has been the envy of much of the world. In the current crisis, many may believe we will do so again. This time I am not so sure. Why?
Knowingly or not, the elites have disempowered 99+% of the general public in a way that has pushed almost all of us into believing that we, the people, are collectively uninformed, misinformed, disinterested or incapable of agreeing on almost any coherent course of action without the involvement, the support, and acceptance of a large measure of control by the elites.
Good polling, particularly public-interest polling, shows almost the opposite is true. At consensus levels (over 67+%) the general public (and voters) – when presented with a wide range of choices in well-designed polls favor specific legislation and regulation in all the major issue areas:
o globalization, o health care o terrorism, o immigration/outsourcing
o education, o the environment, o national and homeland security,
o jobs o economic opportunities o goals and indicators.
The preferred choices of the people are consistent, persistent and resistant to counter-arguments and can make this a far better country for all than it has ever been in modern times.
The nature of the 2004 election crisis is much more dangerous than is generally understood, in part because that nature cannot be known precisely in advance. Futurists have been studying a long list of likely crisis possibilities for years. Crises may occur in a number of realms, such as the collapse of
o government services o commercial services, o civil rights/liberties
o international financial system, o the dollar
o major armed militia attacks,
o new wars and insurrections,
o environmental disasters,
o giant terrorist attacks,
o irretrievable vote counting breakdowns,
and likely, in some sequence, several of the above.
Even within each realm there are a large variety of possibilities. Well in advance, no specific major crisis development can be predicted until it suddenly looms. Nobody, neither public nor elites, wants to do anything but resolve any such crisis, whatever its nature turns out to be. These crises can be contained or overcome if only by postponing or forestalling the consequences of past failures, mistakes and missteps. This is what Americans have done in the past and I do not doubt can do again.
The weakest part of the chain of action that will be able to accomplish this recovery, is the lack of confidence that the American people have in the fact that we the people, when presented with the major relevant facts, all want to move in the same right direction and good polling shows can agree on how to do that.
The developments, following from the forces let loose by past bad elite decisions, will likely come fast and thick in the months ahead and, in truth-is-stranger-than-fiction fashion, might lead to wiping out democracy by dishonest political actions, particularly the 2004 national election itself. Knowing how to spot the spin enables each of us to react quickly to support whatever potential appears for righting the situation to get the nation moving in the right-direction recovery-mode, leading to erecting a structure that supports our democracy rather than destroying it. Your understanding will help. Follow the polls on the issues and the candidate races and be prepared to respond quickly to looming disasters to help save our wonderful country.