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Why I Don't Read Drudge Anymore

Drudge Report:

Election has been rocked with first wave of morning exit polls which show Kerry competitive in key states, campaign and media sources tell DRUDGE.... National Election Pool -- representing six major news organization -- shows Kerry in striking distance -- with small lead -- in Florida and Ohio..

My take. Morning exit polls mean precisely, squat.

For a more scientific analysis we go to Michael Blumenthal, the Mystery Pollster:

So if this poll is so sophisticated, why can’t we rely on the leaked mid-day “numbers” that will soon spread like wildfire across the web?

1) It is still just a survey -- Even when complete, an exit poll still has the same random variation as any other survey. NEP says typical state exit polls will have a sampling error when complete of +/- 4% at a 95% confidence level, and +/- 3% for the national exit poll. Even if comparable to the final numbers – which they are decidedly not – the mid-day leaked numbers would have much greater error, perhaps +/- 7% or more.

Whatever Kerry's lead in Ohio and Florida (if he indeed even has one), one makes the educated assumption it is within the mid-day's NEP exit poll's estimated margin of error of +/- 7%.

2) The mid-day numbers do not reflect weighting by actual turnout -- the end-of-day exit poll used to assist the networks in determining winners will be weighted by the actual turnout of voters at each selected precinct. The weighting will then be continuously updated to reflect turnout at comparable precincts. In the past, mid-day numbers have reflected a weighting based on past turnout, so the leaked mid-day numbers may tell us nothing about the impact of new registrants or the unique level of turnout this time.

One point needs emphasis here: even in past elections, networks never called an election based on raw exit poll numbers alone. They were first weighted by a tally of the full day’s turnout at each sampled precinct. This end-of-day data is (obviously) not available at 12 noon.

Breaking it down by paragraphs. The mid-day numbers are just that, mid-day numbers. With mid-day totals. Not everyone has voted yet.

Second paragraph is a total no-brainer, the end of day numbers are not available at 12 noon.

3) Voting patterns may be different early in the day -- People who work full time jobs typically vote more heavily before or after work. Even a perfect mid-day exit poll – and there is no such animal – may not be any better at picking a winner than the half-time scores in any given football game on Sunday. Also, despite what you may have heard on the West Wing, I know of no serious study showing a consistent Democratic or Republican tilt to the morning or evening hours (if anyone does, please email me).

Here I think Blumenthal's assumption is that Kerry's supposed lead in the NEP mid-day poll comes from people who either a) Are not working or b) Work later in the day. I make no guesses as to which assumption Mr. Blumenthal is embracing. However, it is worthy of notice that Blumenthal is essentially saying that the mid-day poll numbers are, for all intents and purposes, useless.

4) Early or absentee voting -- As of last night, the ABC News survey estimated that 15% of all registered voters nationally had already cast absentee or early ballots. Obviously, these voters will not be available to interviewers standing outside polling places. To incorporate early voting, the National Election Pool is doing telephone interviewing in 13 states to sample the votes of those who voted early. Will these early votes be included in the mid-day leaked numbers? Who knows? I wouldn’t count on it. (Good question, Andrew).

This one pertains to me. I have already voted and because of that I am not voting today, and I am unable to take part in any exit polling, be it mid-day or end of day. The same goes for the estimated 15% of people who have already voted. We are not counted in the NEP mid-day numbers. Here I am going to take a guess; let's assume that the estimated 15% of the electorate that has already voted breaks 50/50, 7.5% for each candidate, let's also assume that the 50/50 break applies to both Florida and Ohio respectively, given that we then factor in Mr. Blumenthal's estimated margin of error of +/- 7% in the NEP mid-day numbers. Now we have a hypothetical lead of .5% for Kerry or we have a hypothetical .5% deficit for Kerry. Essentially a statistical tie.

5) They could be fictional -- Both sides have huge armies of field workers sweating it out in the streets right now. Field workers have been known to find creative ways to boost the morale of their own troops or demoralize the other side. Might someone start a rumor by sending made up numbers to a blog? Ya think? After all, the guy most web surfers turn to for leaked exits likes to say that the information he provides is only 80% accurate. What are the chances he could be, excuse the technical term, making shit up?

Given that Drudge is known to engage in sensationalism, and given his known political bias -- he's a conservative for those of you who have been living on a desert island for the past 8 years -- the chances that he is reporting this to motivate the base are pretty high. Now whether he is just "making shit up", who knows?

6) The people who do exit polls would rather you ignored them -- OK, admittedly, that is a pretty wimpy reason, but they have a point. Exit polls provide a valuable resource for all of us. The will help us better understand who the voters are, why they vote the way they do and what the answers are to some of the debates that have raged for months that will not be resolved by vote returns alone. When someone leaks or broadcasts results of an exit poll (or telegraphs it by winking the way certain news networks tend to do about about 4 or 5 o’clock), calls are made to ban exit pollsters from polling places. That would be a very bad thing.:

Basically here Mr. Blumenthal is admitting that there is a strong possibility that the poll is wrong. Given that, he is saying to ignore it because it would run counter to his own interests. Remember he himself is a professional pollster and a Democratic one at that.

Mercenary? Definitely. Does that make his analysis wrong? Personally, I doubt it.

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