Why Can't Reporters Count?

Why Can't Reporters Count?

Why Can't Reporters Count?

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Feb. 4 2000 3:30 AM

Why Can't Reporters Count?

Subject: Des Moines' Kirkwood Hotel

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From: Mike McCurry

Date: Tue Jan 25

Ballot Box--before he whines further about the Kirkwood Hotel in Des Moines--should know that its proud history includes having been the Iowa home for Bruce Babbitt and his senior staff in 1988! The breakfast in the cafe downstairs was unbeatable. And so were the rates!

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[Mike McCurry is an adviser to grassroots.com and was President Clinton's press secretary from 1995-1998. Read Slate's "Assessment" of him here.]

Subject:Slate's Contempt for Voters

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From: Robert Speed

Date: Tue Feb 1

As far as I'm concerned, your publishing of exit polling is exceeded in irresponsibility only by your excuses for doing so.

I live in Alaska, and exit polling on the East Coast had a disastrous impact on the 1980 election, literally causing untold numbers of people to decide not to vote because the Presidential election had already been called a massive victory by Ronald Reagan. As a result, many Democratic candidates went down to defeat by default--their supporters were discouraged from voting, not sufficiently aware of the impact their decision would have on races down the ticket.

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Not only do early exit polls hurt the chances of candidates in unrelated races, they also inflate third-party support. In 1980, I cast my vote for John Anderson since I knew that a vote for Jimmy Carter would be wasted. Anderson had been a courageous fighter during that campaign and I wanted him to cross the vote threshold to receive federal matching funds. (He did.) If you look at the Anderson voting patterns across the country in 1980, you will find that his percentages increased in a wave from east to west from near zero to more than 6 percent.

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Subject: Mysterious Iowa Vote Count

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Date: Tue Jan 25

Why are the actual numbers of voters not more prominently reported? I do not consider Gore's Iowa vote very significant, since he garnered only a thousand or so votes. Why does MSNBC think it is a big deal when it's not?

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Subject: RE: Mysterious Iowa Vote Count

From: Mickey Kaus

Date: Tue Jan 25

This has been a point of much confusion. Don Imus apparently wondered at length on his radio show why the vote totals (for example, those on MSNBC) were so low--with Bradley getting "698" and Gore getting "1,269." The answer is that those numbers are not vote totals. They are the number of delegates each candidate is projected to have at Iowa's state convention, which will in turn choose Iowa's delegates to the Democratic convention. The percentage figures you see bandied about in the press aren't vote percentages either--they're percentages of these same state convention delegates.

Why weren't actual vote counts given? Because the state party doesn't tally them--all it cares about are the delegates. (If it counted votes, that would make Iowa a "primary," and New Hampshire would be pissed.) Why shouldn't the press go in and count the actual votes at the caucuses? Because this is a Herculean task that the press royally screwed up when it was previously attempted. (See this "Kausfiles" item.)

But if the press isn't going to count votes, it should make clear that the totals it is reporting aren't vote totals--a task at which it failed miserably this year. MSNBC is the only site I've seen that even makes an attempt (in a murky footnote).

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[Mickey Kaus writes "Kausfiles."]

Subject: North Dakota, Electorally Au Courant

From: Dave Huey

Date: Wed Jan 26

This was an interesting piece but you don't make it clear why in the four states you list as exceptions the newvoter.com registration form cannot be used. In North Dakota at least, it is not because we are a provincial bunch of anti-tech Luddites. Rather, it is because in North Dakota you can't register to vote, on-line or otherwise. You don't need to. We got rid of the whole cumbersome process years ago.

Voting in North Dakota is like buying liquor: Just show some I.D. To vote, you just go to the polling place in the precinct where you live and tell them who you are and where you live. If they don't know you already ("Oh, right, you moved in to the old Hanson place on Third St."), they'll ask to see some I.D. and then hand you a ballot. Pretty simple, huh!

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[To read a Slate "Dialogue" that grew out of a Fray discussion last week, see "How To Deal With Fringe Academics." To read part of the initial Fray discussion, click here.]