Sunday, November 05, 2006

Election Blues

Some believe that the greatest danger to the Republic comes from terrorists. Some believe that it comes from nuclear war, or excessive immigration. I believe that the biggest danger to the United States comes from its own people losing faith in its system of government. And the American system of government is based squarely on regularly held fair elections for representatives. The system depends on, among other things, that the winner of the election will not use his office to take retribution on the loser, and that the loser will abide by the electoral decision. There are forces within the United States who appear to wish to destroy the American reliance on elections for political leaders. This destruction would eventually effectively do away with the election as the soverign deciding mechanism for electing officials.

How, after centuries of regular elections, could the people of the U.S. be separated from something so basic to the political life? Until recent elections, registered voter turnout has been in a steady decline. The offering of the vote to 18-year-olds did nothing to appreciably increase voter participation. Most 18-21-year-olds do not vote, and, at that time of their lives, are apathetic to national issues. Indeed, there is a class of older American who cannot be bothered with even local issues; to these folks the federal government is "the man," who oppresses from far away. Most of these individuals are apolitical, and so they, by and large, do not evangelize against the government, except to their close neighbors or bar compainions. These apolitical classes have been joined by a political class that not only distrusts the government, but distrusts the means to arriving at a government.

The "hanging chad" fiasco of 2000 did not only traumatize the electorate of Florida. Rightly or wrongly, it shook public confidence in the ability of the state government to hold an election. Many state governments responded by dispensing with whatever "outmoded" system they were using at the time and going to a fully electronic, computerized system. Instead of inspiring confidence in the vote, the move to computerized machines added the fear of computer vulnerability and vote invisibility to an already unsettled electorate. An example of this enhanced voter distrust can be found in a story recounting an incident of a voter losing sight of her vote. She did not lose her vote, only her ability to verify her vote. The vaguely written story said nothing of how this might have occurred, or whether it actually affected the vote. (I suspect operator error, having dealt with computer programs with "display problems" before.)

All of this distrust has fueled an idea that the election can and will be rigged. One Democratic blogger has gone so far as to say that if the election does not go its way, protests should be held in front of local county election offices. Bob Fertik's blog proposes that Democrats dressed in blue should hold candlelight vigils in front of the election offices. Should the election go their way, the gathering would turn into a party. If the election result was unfavorable, the gathering would be a protest. Fertik envisions his "Blue Revolution" following in the footsteps of revolutions in the Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, and Lebanon. In Fertik's opinion, since the opinion polls have had the Democrats ahead of the Republicans, any electoral result other than Democratic victory must be the result of rigging.

Several questions arise out of this strategy. If opinion polls are the true standard of the will of the electorate, why hold the old fashioned kind at all? It is very expensive in time and money to hold an election where you endevor to count every vote. Even with electronic means, which some of the electorate passionately do not trust, it takes a large effort to hold a statewide election. So why go through the expense if you can outsource it to Zogby, Gallup, or one of the networks?

Opinion polling, even in its purest form, is a statistical exercise. It does not hold to the principle of "one individual, one vote." A number of individuals are sampled, and then the pollster infers what the whole electorate will do. While statisticians have devoted whole careers to making polling methods accurate, there are a number of ways they can go wrong.

A portion of the electorate will not talk to pollsters or will lie. Some will tell pollsters they are likely to vote, and then not vote. Or, they will change their minds between being polled and casting the official vote. Some, feeling the questions are an intrusion, will not talk to the pollster at all or not answer the questions truthfully.

The pollster could knowingly or unknowingly form poll questions to bias one side. Most polls that are published purport to be unbiased, but they can and sometimes are manipulated either by the polling or the publishing organization. An pollster can let his mindset dictate how a question is formed, and thus introduce bias. Certain non-neutral vocabulary can influence a respondent. More insidiously, introductory paragraphs or initial questions can be formed to lead an individual to a particular way of thinking, so that when the final, "unbiased" question is asked, the respondent is conditioned to answer a certain way.

The pollster can weight the demographics improperly. Just as there is always a temptation in the military to "refight the last war" polsters use demographic weighting based on past data to approximate what the whole electorate can do. Answers by members of certain low-density groups are given more weight than other responses. Thus, a single response from the right group can potentially throw off the accuracy of the poll.

Furthermore, we have the example of recent elections where opinion polls have failed to predict the will of the electorate. Polling can not be allowed to replace the election as the voice of the electorate.

Statistical sampling in the form of opinion polls should never take the place of the self-selected poll, the election. A voter must suffer the "inconvenience" of registering, and then care enough to go to the polls. At that moment, he or she becomes one of the "governing elites, making an actual decision. The voter must have confidence that his decision is heard. A blue clad mob acting on statistical inference should not be allowed to overthrow that decision.



Blogger Desmond said...

I'm pro-republican from the very start. I'm pro family values and social moral more than the coming up of new ideals for the so called "improvement" of ones freedom and rights they thought the republicans were holding them back.(am I talking about the democrats?). Also religious acceptance over religious tolerance. Not much a big fan of democratic idealist myself, really. They would come up with an idea but only made it worse. Well that's all I can say about politics. politics is no business of young people. They only made the situation even worse.

(I forgot that I'm not residing in the US:)

I wonder what happened to Bent now?

1:59 AM  
Blogger CMinor said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:05 AM  
Blogger CMinor said...

Dunno. She stopped by here a couple of weeks ago. She had indicated on her blog that work had been very busy, so perhaps she's still digging out.

A friend once remarked to me that she was not scandalized by low voter turnout in the 18-25 set as she saw it as evidence of immaturity indicating a lack of fitness to vote anyway. Still, there are many thoughtful young people out there. I think it's best that they have the opportunity, and if the apathetic and ignorant choose not to use it, that's their loss.

9:01 AM  

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