Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Should Rove be scared?

PBS | I, Cringely . Archived Column
Anna Greenberg of pollster Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research told the BBC, or example, that only three percent of Americans use their mobile phones as a sole communication device, but the FCC said two years ago that five percent of U.S. homes have only mobile phone service and that 15 percent of university students have only mobile phone service. And with 77 million U.S. mobile phones owned by people age 18-24, many of those supposedly counted are probably still associated with a parent's hard-wired telephone number but are really mobile. So the numbers of unpolled votes could be huge.

And though pollsters (who after all are generally in business to do this work) deny it, the switch from fixed to mobile communication is already having an impact on the outcome of elections.

In the last presidential election, one might have expected the final tracking polls to pretty closely reflect the actual outcome of the election only a few hours later. But no. Gore was generally two to three points down in most tracking polls conducted on November 6, 2000, but won the popular vote on November 7 by about half a million voters, or half of one percent. True, this is within the statistical range of most polls, but if the deviation from the actual vote count was truly random noise, then half of the tracking polls would have counted high and half counted low. But that's not the way it happened, and the reason isn't noise, but a consistent sampling error.

More recently in the 2003, Philadelphia mayoral election the final tracking polls gave incumbent mayor John Street a slight statistical lead over challenger Sam Katz, yet the actual vote went 59 to 41 for Street. How could those Philadelphia tracking polls be so far off? They missed the extensive effort to register student voters in that city, with its several major universities.

Now how about Diddy and all the others urging young people to register and vote in the upcoming Presidential election? Their stated goal is 20 million new voters (out of a total of perhaps 110-120 million voters) and given the fervent message and extensive advertising on MTV, VH1 and elsewhere, that goal just might be reached, presumably with most of those kids voting for Kerry, the Democratic challenger. If the polls are skewed, then Kerry is actually doing much better and can probably expect a comfortable win.

But if that's the case, why aren't we hearing about it?

The likely answer is simply because Democratic strategists fear any sign of cockiness will result in many of those newly registered young voters not bothering to vote at all, leading to a Bush victory. So nobody says anything, holding their breath and hoping for a particular outcome.

And Diddy, I hear he's planning to sublet the Lincoln bedroom.

I'll be out there November 2nd, on the phones and in the car. As for Rove, he's going to do something desperate.

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