Exit Polls In Venezuela
The massive voter turnout caused the voting stations to open past midnight and the poll results will not available until later on Monday. In the meantime, both sides are claiming victory on the basis of "exit polls."
Why are there so much difference in exit poll results? The reasons are the same as those divergent opinion poll results leading up to the referendum (see this previous post for an extensive collection of poll results).
First, some polls are 'fake' polls that are made up for political reasons For example, if you believe that a large turnout damages your prospects, you would release exit poll results early with a wide winning margin so that potential voters will stay away because they were told that it was a done deal. Conversely, if you believe that a large turnout will work in your favor, you would release exit poll results early indicating a tight race.
Secondly, some pollsters may be honest and well-intentioned but they cannot implement correctly due to the political polarization. For example, Súmate pollsters cannot work in chavista neighborhoods, at least not openly. If you ask only people who are your supporters, you are apt to find ... a lot of votes that support you.
Thirdly, there are two types of exit polls. One type is enumerative in nature and involves asking as many people as possible and then reporting the raw numbers. For example, there may be 10 million voters this time, but you only have the resources to complete 100,000 exit interviews. So you can only report that 60,000 voted one way and 40,000 voted the other way, for example. It is a stretch for you to assert that the 10 million voters went 60% one way and 40% the other way.
The other type involves conducting a carefully drawn sample and then projecting the sample results to the voting population. For example, by studying past historical patterns, you can identify certain key precincts into which you can pour your limited resources. For this referendum, all bets are off since voter turnout was unprecedented in history. Notwithstanding the fact that you drew your sample carefully, the results cannot be projected with confidence because the historical patterns are inoperative.
Professionally, this is a black mark for polls as a whole and undermines confidence in all forms of polling. This does not occur in other countries, because there are usually consequences. Politicians who fake poll results will lose credibility, and polling companies who publish seriously wrong results will be driven out of business. Such accountability seems to be absent in Venezuela at this time. But after the official results come out, certain politicians and polling companies will have some explaining to do.
Postscript: The biggest loser is Hannah Baldock of The Independent (UK). She wrote: "The mid-morning results showed that the opposition, already boasting an enormous 1,758,000 votes to Chavez's 798,000, is well on its way to reaching the target of 3.76 million votes it needs to oust the authoritarian, left-wing President." It is a total mystery as to how those numbers can even be derived based upon any possible source of information. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Her article was deleted from The Independent website as soon as the official announcement was made.
Postscript 2: A detailed analysis of the Súmate/Penn, Schoen & Berland exit poll is presented in a separate post.
Here is a rumored use of polls on referendum day.
The polling station will open at 6am and close at 6pm on Sunday, August 15, 2004. At 9:30am, an exit poll study by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc., a US polling company with opposition ties, will be released to create public opinion unfavorable to the “No” option. Later, at the rally scheduled for 3:00 p.m., Miranda governor Enrique Mendoza and Accion Democratica secretary general Henry Ramos Allup will say that they already have the real results which would make irrelevant the official results released by the National Elections Council (CNE) after the counts are completed.
The CNE has reminded people that to article 264 of the Suffrage Organic Law "the media is prohibited from broadcasting information regarding results of the electoral process during the day on which it is held, during the schedule established for voting, until the CNE determines the ending of the event; this infraction, could result in the closing or signal shutdown of the media engaging in such activities." The CNE has also denounced Mendozea for creating a "climate of turmoil and confusion to pave the way in order for grave impact on the public order to occur, and for the electoral referee to be ignored ... if there is no trust in our public institutions, our country will be damned."
(Reuters) Venezuela opposition mum on vote result. August 16, 2004.
A top Venezuelan opposition leader says he has already had figures indicating the result of a referendum on whether to recall President Hugo Chavez and, with a smile, adds that people can tell what it is from his expression.
"From the expression on my face, people can tell what's happening," said a smug-looking Enrique Mendoza, a leader of the opposition coalition which forced Sunday's referendum on the populist president. "We already have enough information," he said on Monday.
Venezuelan law prohibits anyone from announcing electoral results until the country's election authorities do so.
Voting was still continuing at many polling booths at 1 a.m. (6 a.m. British time) Monday, meaning no official result was likely for several hours. But, while opposition leaders were all smiles, hundreds of Chavez supporters gathered outside the Miraflores presidential palace had already begun to celebrate what they believed was their victory.
(Independent) Venezuela's Chavez on brink of referendum defeat. By Hannah Baldock. August 16, 2004.
The Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, looked to be losing his grip on power last night as exit polls showed him to be trailing the opposition by almost a million votes.
The figures were early indications that, for the first time in the country's history, the President may have his term in office cut short by a referendum.
The mid-morning results showed that the opposition, already boasting an enormous 1,758,000 votes to Chavez's 798,000, is well on its way to reaching the target of 3.76 million votes it needs to oust the authoritarian, left-wing President. Turn-out for the referendum was high, with millions of Venezuelans queuing from the early hours at polling stations all over the oil-rich country to decide the political fate of the firebrand Mr Chavez.
The Venezuelan people are tensely awaiting a close-run and disputed result. In the capital, Caracas, government vans equipped with speakers drove through the poor residential districts in the east of the city at 5am, playing a military wake-up call before piping out popular pro-Chavez songs to voters, some of whom had in any case been up all night letting off fireworks, anticipating victory.
"Our commandante has already won," said Eric Caldera, a student queuing to vote against Mr Chavez's recall. "The rich people and TV stations are the only ones who say the opposition is going to win. They want to regain the power and privilege they had before, and loot the country. You can count the rich people on your hand, the poor you can't. They are too many. And they are with Chavez."
A clamorous cluster of opposition voters in Parroquia El Recreo voting station, central Caracas, rejected the pro-Chavez voters' arguments against them. "If Chavez wins we will paint the walls with 'No Future'. As no one will have a future, not us nor our children. We don't want a Cuba here," added Elsie Billar, 54, an accountant.
If, as looked likely last night, Mr Chavez loses, Vice-President Jose Rangel will take over until general elections are held in a month's time.
(Venezuelanalysis.com) UK's Independent Newspaper Falsifies Venezuela Election Results. By Ron Smith. August 16, 2004.
Let's talk about lousy, lazy, yellow journalism, and in a left-leaning paper, too. First, it's a bit early for such predictions, no? Second, it's still 8:15PM on the 15th here in Caracas, too early to legally release results, hell, the polls are still open for four more hours! Third, let's have a source for these numbers, Hannah. There are no "mid-morning results"! The only source, and I use the term loosely, to claim to release early results was Enrique Mendoza, a premiere member of the opposition group Coordinadora Democratica [sic], hardly an unbiased source, and he was shot down when the government banned early results.
Perhaps you refuse to provide a source because none exists, or perhaps you're using the usual "reliable" source of the escualido opposition. Either way, you're blemishing the record of the Independent by presenting a prediction as a truism. The government has strictly and explicitly forbidden any early release of polling numbers. When the figures are released, they will be in the form of percentages, not hard numbers.
Fourth, "Left wing authoritarian president?" What the hell is that? Is it because you're still working under a racist premise about Latin America that you can disparage a democratically elected leader? I'd humbly suggest that after tonight, we'd find that Chavez has more popular support than Tony Blair. I'd like to see you describe him in such a way!
Independent, you need to be more careful in your reporters' screening process. And enough with the "firebrand" bullshit already! I've come to expect more, much more, from the Independent and the Observer. Get your facts straight before you lose your credibility.
The report was removed form the Independent web site after Chavez's victory was announced.
(Miami Herald) Huge turnout for Venezuelan recall vote. By Steve Dudley, Phil Gunson and Nancy San Martin. August 15, 2004.
Venezuelan voters turned out in stuningly massive numbers Sunday to cast their ballots in an unprecedented recall referendum on President Hugo Chávez, some waiting in line outside polling stations for up to nine hours.
The long lines at polling stations across the country were a sign that voters are determined to end a three-year old crisis that has bitterly polarized Venezuela's population, crippled its economy and unleashed several outbreaks of deadly violence.
Both sides claimed to be ahead. Opposition sources told the Herald that government officials have told foreign diplomats in Caracas that Chávez is ahead by 16 percentage points, but that two opposition exit polls show the president losing by at least 11 percentage points.
Information Minister Jesse Chacón said he was satisfied with the results of the government's own exit polls. ''We have three foreign companies doing exit polls and, let me tell you, we feel very comfortable,'' he said.
The National Electoral Council has banned the release of any exit polls before it announces its own official figures, expected no earlier than three hours after the polls close at midnight.
(Vheadline.com) Clandestine sources email allegedly preliminary results to the international media. By Katherine Lahey. August 15, 2004.
Already with just minutes to spare before 3:00 p.m. international media began receiving emails from IP address 220.127.116.11 claiming to release preliminary results. In accordance with electoral regulations, VHeadline.com will not publish the information ... we do not give much credence to the information since tracing the sender IP to Virginia, USA! [note: the IP address belongs to AOL.com]
(Narcosphere) Why We Don't Publish Venezuela "Exit Polls". By Al Giordano. August 16, 2004.
The Narco News Informational "War Room" is hopping here in Caracas, Venezuela, with more than a dozen Authentic Journalists monitoring every single wire cable, news report, or claim made on the Internet regarding today's referendum in this South American country.
We are aware of all the exit poll information on both sides - and we have seen the conflicting claims of at least two other websites regarding so-called "exit polls" - but we will not publish them here and I would like to explain why...
First, it is illegal under Venezuelan law.
Second, it is illegal for good reason, in a country where the Commercial Media unanimously reported, in April 2002, "Chavez Resigned" when the president was, in fact, kidnapped at gunpoint. Here, the Commercial Media has shown its willingness to blatantly lie in order to destabilize and impede democracy, and more of that kind of behavior continues today...
The publication of false numbers (we know that the numbers published, for example, by "Eric" on an esqualido website are false, and knowing the source, we believe they are knowingly false, as does Venezuela Communications minister Jesse Chacón, who is also aware, now, of the probable identity of "Eric") only reflects an attempt to disqualify the hard results when they come in later tonight.
There are all kinds of shenanigans going on today in Venezuela. Here is another example, in a report filed from here in the Narco Newsroom Caracas by Manuel Rozental, who is here with Justin Podur and the Z-Net delegation collaborating in this Election Night Press Watch...
OPPOSITION LANDSLIDE VICTORY FALSELY ANNOUNCED ON VIDEO HOURS BEFORE POLLS ARE CLOSED
By Manuel Rozental
At 2:59 p.m. and some 6 to 7 hours before the polls are closed in today’s National Referendum, the Venezuelan daily El Universal informed that The President and Principal of Venezuela`s National Electoral Council (CNE), Francisco Carrasquero and Jorge Rodrìguez denounced on a national radio and television statement that they had obtained a copy of a CD where the image and voice of Francisco Carrasquero had been manipulated.
In it, Carrasquero is heard announcing that the opposition obtained 11`436.000 (of the approximate maximum of 14`000.000).
Carrasquero is heard announcing that the mandate of President Chavez has been revoked as a result of a democratic popular decision (see
Aporrea for details). CNE authorities claim that this CD is evidence of the “fraudulent intentions” of those who vow to produce unofficial reports that have not been produced by the CNE. According to these authorities, CNE will initiate an investigation to identify those responsible for this fraud which they called an “attempt to distort the free and democratically expressed will of the (Venezuelan) people”.
Shortly after 3pm, a spokesman for the opposition reacted strongly on one of the private television stations stating that the images contained in this video are part of a comedy and in turn accused CNE authorities of using this material to generate false accusations against them.
This episode exposes the existing tensions in these final hours of an unprecedented democratic process that has mobilized massive popular participation and supports the concerns expressed by the Government and the CNE regarding possible manipulations and misinformation of the official results.
In the coming hours - polls have been opened for an extra four hours until 10 p.m. Eastern Time to handle the unprecedented high turnout in the referendum - expect more such claims and counterclaims. Here at the Narco Newsroom Caracas Bureau, with 20 fast-internet connections humming, and Authentic Journalists at the helm, we will continue shooting down all rumors and falsehoods until the accurate results are known.
(Venezuelanalysis.com) Venezuela’s Opposition Resorts to Phony Exit Polls. By Jonah Gindin. August 15, 2004.
In the wealthy Caracas neighborhood of Altamira would-be voters are experiencing extended delays, and some have spent as much as 12 hours waiting in line. Across town in the working-class neighborhood of Petare, people have been in line since 4 am. In the upper class neighborhood of Altamira, where voters are almost unanimously against President Chávez, they are blaming the delays on Chavista sabotage; and in Petare, a bastion of Chávez support, the chaos is the now familiar result of opposition dirty tricks.
Outside one of the Altamira voting centers, Súmate volunteers conduct exit polls and provide support for those still in line. Súmate, a self-described civil association, is an arm of the opposition umbrella group the Democratic Coordinator. According to Súmate, there are forty-five thousand of these volunteers all over the country—at least one at every single voting station, and at those voting stations deemed more important, there are as many as twenty.
Altamira, apparently, is one such location. Twenty conscripts stand around outside the voting center, clipboard in hand waiting for unsuspecting citizens to emerge, fresh from having voted. “Good afternoon,” they purr, “would you mind telling us if you voted ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?” and “Yes, yes, yes,” is the most common response.
“How many ‘No’ votes have you received?” I asked, playing the naïve reporter.
“Let’s see,” she offered, tapping her tennis shoes, “there are no ‘Nos’ on this page, and one on this page. I have one ‘No’.”
“Just one?” I persisted.
“Well, I don’t know about the others, but I have just one,” she answered, then, spotting some emerging voters in the distance, she scampered of to collect more “Yeses.”
According to co-director Maria Corina Machado, Súmate is an objective non-partisan civil association. When asked why Súmate has worked exclusively with the Venezuelan opposition since its inception in 2002, Machado said that their overtures to the government were regularly rebuffed. Machado neglected to mention that one of the reasons the government may have been hesitant to work with her group is because she was a participant in the 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chávez—she signed the infamous decree of dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona. She is currently being investigated for treason, for having received funds from a foreign government (the U.S.) earmarked for ousting the Chavez government.
Due to Súmate’s infamy as an arm of Venezuela’s opposition umbrella group the Democratic Coordinador, Machado noted that volunteers stationed in Chavista neighborhoods would not reveal their identities. Since campaigning ended on Thursday, and political groups are not permitted to solicit votes at voting centers on Sunday, Súmate has instructed its volunteers to pose as ‘good samaritans’.
The role of the volunteers, according Machado, is to help citizens to resolve any problems they may encounter during the voting process. For example, “if someone comes to a voting center to vote and their name’s not on the list…that will happen.”
According to one of Súmate’s Altamira volunteers, “we are here to provide food for the people in line, to provide them with water, to help them in any way we can to facilitate the voting process. And to do exit polls, to see if they voted ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.”
“And you have volunteers providing food in all the lines all over the country?”
“Yes, absolutely. Everywhere,” responded another white-clad Súmate pollster.
“But I was just in Petare, a very Chavista neighbourhood, and I didn’t notice anyone from Súmate handing out food or water,” I said coyly.
“That’s because the people in those neighbourhoods don’t like the Coordinadora, not because the Coordinadora doesn’t want to help them,” she exclaimed, visibly perturbed.
“So if you can’t get into Chavista neighborhoods, you can’t do exit polls there, right?” I asked.
“No…” she hesitated, “I’m sure they are doing exit polls everywhere.” End of interview.
In light of Democratic Coordinator leader Enrique Mendoza’s pronouncement last week that he would be releasing his exit poll results this afternoon, Súmate’s less than representative polling may be cause for concern.
At this point, the opposition seems to be more or less aware of the likelihood that they will lose today’s vote. And with the optimistic attitudes of both the Carter Center and the Organization of American States regarding the transparency of the voting process, it would appear that a Chávez victory will have to be grudgingly accepted by at least those sectors of the opposition nominally committed to the democratic process.
In that case, perhaps the best that they can hope for is to cast some doubt on the process; to exaggerate some irregularities, to create others. That way, they can refer in passing to problems with the referendum results for the rest of Chávez’ tenure as President, never going into any detail, but perpetuating the international stereotype that Chávez has authoritarian tendencies.And releasing exit polls that directly contradict the official results may be the best way of accomplishing this.
(Xinhuanet) Pro-Chavez forces predict president's victory. August 15, 2004.
Venezuelan Communications and Information Minister of Venezuela Jesse Chacon Sunday hinted at the victory of President Hugo Chavez in the ongoing recall referendum. Chacon, leader of the Maisanta Command which promotes the continuity of Chavez's presidency, affirmed he felt "very comfortable" about the possible results of the popular consultation of Sunday.
The three US companies doing opinion polls outside the voting centers for Maisanta Command have ratified that the projection is reasonable, Chacon said in reference to the advantage the president has over the opposition.
The minister said he would not give any figures in order not to violate the regulations of the National Electoral Council which ban the disclosing of extra-official results.
According to the official, a level of absenteeism standing at 20 percent would favor Chavez, because that has been one of the traditional characteristics of the most affected sectors in society. Chacon said if the poorest individuals have gone to vote, in principle, that would represent more votes for Chavez, because the president has his greatest support among them.
(Los Angeles Times) Venezuelans Flock to the Polls to Vote on a Divisive President. By Carol J. Williams. August 16, 2004.
Official results were expected today. Although Venezuelan regulations forbade release of results from independent voter surveys until the outcome was announced, the New York-based polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates forecast a landslide vote to oust Chavez. The firm's exit poll of more than 20,000 voters suggested that 59% of an estimated 8 million votes cast by early evening were against Chavez.
But a public relations firm working for the government said a poll it had commissioned showed Chavez defeating the recall with 55% of the vote. The Caracas firm of Varianza Opinion based its projection on more than 53,000 interviews, said Michael Shellenberger, president of El Cerrito-based Lumina Strategies.
(San Francisco Chronicle) Venezuelan politics suit Bay Area activists' talents. By Robert Collier. August 20, 2004.
Oakland pollster Evans McDonough, which was under contract to the Venezuelan government, was the only major polling firm operating in Venezuela whose pre-election polls and exit poll predicted a landslide win for Chavez, who won by 59 percent to 41 percent, according to official returns.
Rival pollster Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, a Washington, D.C., firm that was former President Bill Clinton's chief poll-taker and was hired by the Venezuelan opposition, issued an exit poll Sunday that got the results reversed. More than four hours before the voting ended, the firm issued a press release with the headline "Exit Poll Results Show Major Defeat for Chavez." It claimed Chavez had been defeated, 59 percent to 41 percent.
The opposition tried to use Penn Schoen's exit poll to justify its claim that the official election tally must have been falsified, and it claimed that former President Jimmy Carter and officials of the Organization of American States, who verified the results as accurate, were dupes of Chavez.
In the middle of the fray has been Michael Shellenberger, president of Lumina Strategies, an El Cerrito public relations firm that was hired by Chavez in June to help repair his poor public image in the United States. Shellenberger, who previously worked on campaigns to save the Headwaters Forest and against Nike over sweatshop labor said that the Penn Schoen survey was unreliable because the actual polling was carried out by a Venezuelan opposition group, Sumate, that received U.S. government funding and was itself a key organizer of the referendum.
Alex McDonough, a partner in the Oakland polling firm, which works for Democratic clients including Jerry Brown and Don Perata, said his own exit poll found Chavez winning by 55 percent to 45 percent -- a result that Shellenberger says he used on election night to convince correspondents in Caracas that the opposition's use of its poll results to claim victory was false.
"The opposition has seemed more interested in using polling to affect the results themselves, rather than in using the data to help their campaign strategies," McDonough said.
But pollster Doug Schoen defends his work by echoing the opposition's claims. "There's a simple answer for this, and it's fraud," he said. He cited media reports of the opposition's claims that the Venezuelan elections institute doctored the vote-counting software.
(Boston Globe) Venezuela opposition refuses to admit defeat. By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan. August 19, 2004.
But Sumate has nevertheless questioned its own quick-count results because they apparently differed from their informal exit polls.
Exit polling by any partisan group in any country is "quite unreliable," former President Jimmy Carter, founder of the Atlanta-based Carter Center, explained in an interview. "People doing them are often highly subjective. . . . They may be more inclined to ask a question to someone wealthy than to someone in overalls."
In an even harsher assessment, Carter said he had doubts that the exit polls that leaked out Sunday evening claiming a landslide for Chavez were an accurate portrayal of the replies from voters surveyed that day. "No doubt that some of their leaders deliberately distributed this erroneous poll data to build up not only their expectations, but also to influence the people still standing in line," he said.
Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the OAS, also said opposition leaders had been misled by biased exit polls. "They were told they had a 20-point lead, and they lost by 20 points," he said. "It's hard to deal with that."
(US News) Exit polls in Venezuela. By Michael Barone. August 20, 2004.
"Were NY Pollsters Just Playing a Joke on Chavez?" That was the typically cheeky headline on an item about the Venezuela election in The Hotline political digest (nationaljournal.com) this week. The item quoted a press release from the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Assoc. saying, "Exit Poll Results Show Major Defeat for Chavez." The release, dated 7:30 p.m., said, "With Venezuela's voting set to end at 8 p.m. EST according to election officials, final exit poll results from Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, an independent New York-based polling firm, show a major victory for the 'Yes' movement, defeating Chavez in the Venezuela presidential recall referendum." The poll showed 59 percent in favor of recalling Chavez, 41 percent against.
The next morning, Chavez was declared the winner by an almost exact opposite margin. "About 58 percent said 'no' to a recall, while 42 percent said 'yes,'" wrote the Washington Post.
The Hotline was evidently having a little fun twitting a polling firm. But was the result as clear as they—and official election observer Jimmy Carter—thought? There is good reason to believe it was not. In fact, it's something of a scandal that American news media have been taking the official vote count in Venezuela at face value. There is very good reason to believe that the exit poll had the result right, and that Chavez's election officials—and Carter and the American media—got it wrong.
Let us look at the reasons.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has been running an authoritarian regime. By various means he has taken control of the legislature, the courts, the armed services and the police. His thugs have been intimidating and even killing the regime's opponents. The literature on this is voluminous, but consider these reports from the Wall Street Journal: www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110005494 and www.opinionjournal.com/wsj/?id=110005478. Chavez is an ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro and an enemy of the United States, and he has shown no commitment to democratic principles. He sought to block the referendum by extralegal means and, having failed at that, resorted to intimidation to win it. There is no reason to believe that he would stop at election fraud.
One weapon against such fraud is the exit poll. As Doug Schoen of Penn Schoen points out, his firm has conducted exit polls in Mexico and, just a few days ago, in the Dominican Republic, which produced results very close to the election results. His partner Mark Penn points out that the firm conducted two previous exit polls in Venezuela, both of which were on the mark. Warren Mitofsky's firm, Mitofsky International, has produced exit polls with similar results in Mexico and Russia. Mitofsky recalls that in 1994, Mexican President Carlos Salinas, seeking credibility with foreign investors for that year's Mexican elections, asked him for advice on what to do. Allow independent exit polls, Mitofsky advised, sponsored by the media, and allow the results to be announced soon after the voting. Mitofsky's exit poll results, announced soon after the polls closed, did in fact come close to the official results, as did another Mitofsky poll in 2000. More important, they provided independent confirmation of the fairness of the count.
Interestingly, Mitofsky points out that Jimmy Carter has opposed independent exit polls in countries where he has observed elections. In 1994, Mitofsky says, he persuaded South Africa's election authorities from allowing exit polls. As a result, there was considerable confusion and skepticism in the course of the five-day election process. Nevertheless, the chief South African election official tried to persuade Mexico not to allow exit polls. Salinas, fortunately, showed better judgment.
In Venezuela, Schoen's firm was hired by businessmen who were almost surely opponents of Chavez. The Chavez regime intimidated local interviewing firms, who refused to provide interviewers for Penn Schoen at the polls. As a result, the firm trained volunteers. Critics of the firm might argue that these volunteers, undoubtedly mostly anti-Chavez, may have tried to present a false result.
But that would in fact be difficult to do. Mitofsky points out that in countries emerging from autocracy into democracy, about 90 percent of voters approached by exit pollsters agree to participate. That is almost double the rate in the United States. Moreover, exit pollers work in teams; there would have to be massive collusion for them to produce fraudulent results. The Penn Schoen exit poll was conducted at about 200 polling places and produced more than 20,000 responses. Changing those results from something like 42-58 (the Chavez announced figure) to 59-41 would be quite a feat. The firm employed supervisors to make sure the polling was done right. And its results by precinct can be checked against the official results reported for that precinct.
In contrast, it would be far easier, given the touch-screen voting method and central tabulation used in Venezuela, for the central counting center to falsify the results. All you would have to do is program the computer to count every sixth "yes" vote as a "no." That would transform a 59-41 vote to 42-58. And the results would still show pro-Chavez areas voting for him and anti-Chavez areas going the other way—just by different margins.
Jimmy Carter did not remain in Venezuela long after the polling and, after a superficial look at the central counting center, pronounced the election fair and the result accurate. He could not have determined whether the counting computer was misprogrammed. Chavez had every motive for cheating: polls before the election mostly showed him under 50 percent, and he should have reasonably concluded that those not for him were against. Adjusting the count was one sure way to win.
By way of comparison, Penn Schoen has no motive whatever for cheating. It is a reputable American firm in a competitive business. Over more than 20 years it has worked for successful American politicians like Bill Clinton in 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2001, Michael Bloomberg in 2001 and many others. I have had experience, as a political consultant and a political writer, dealing with Penn Schoen during that whole time, and have found the firm to be reliable and fully observant of professional standards. They are high on my list of Democratic, Republican and independent polling firms whose numbers I trust and whose professional integrity I respect. Penn and Schoen are not likely to squander a hard-won good reputation to please a client in a foreign country where they are not likely to work again any time soon.
Schoen has little doubt what happened. "I think it was a massive fraud," he told me. "Our internal sourcing tells us that there was fraud in the central commission." This was not the first time he has encountered such things. "The same thing happened in Serbia in 1992, by [President Slobodan] Milosevic. He did it again in the local elections in 1996. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people died. Had he been caught [in this fraud] in 1992, this would not have happened."
In Venezuela this year, as in Serbia in 1992, I think it's overwhelmingly likely that the exit poll was far closer than the officially announced results to the way people actually voted.
Unhappily, the prospects for Venezuela are not much better than they were for Serbia. The Chavez regime has been given a patina of respectability by Jimmy Carter and the New York Times editorial page that it almost certainly does not deserve. Warren Mitofsky was not involved in Venezuela, and is a competitor of Penn Schoen, but he draws similar conclusions to Schoen's. "I find it extraordinary that, with only one exit poll and no quick count, people are willing to take one side's word," he told me. "This doesn't smell good."
Independent exit polls are one of the guarantors of democracy in countries emerging from or under authoritarian rule. Political junkies may think it amusing that there is such a wide discrepancy between an exit poll and official results. But for people in Venezuela and perhaps in other parts of Latin America it's more likely to be tragic.
(The NarcoSphere) Michael Barone's Unconvincing Defense of Penn & Schoen. By Al Giordano. August 21, 2004.
Inside the Washington DC beltway, one hand washes the other. Thus, it is no surprise that with the polling company Penn, Schoen & Berland being up against the ropes on its flawed methodology conducting an "exit poll" in Venezuela last Sunday, that a beltway insider like conservative columnist Michael Barone would rise to the firm's defense. Barone, a columnist for U.S. News & World Report and the right-wing TownHall.com, won himself a "favor owed" from the polling firm yesterday with his column in U.S. News.
Of course, Barone has zero experience in Venezuela (does he even understand the Spanish language?) and goes way out on a limb in his ignorant presumptions… Barone crawled so far out on that limb, that it won't take much effort to bring out the fact-checking chainsaw and cut him back down into the sewers of beltway insider punditdom. Vroom! Vrooooom! Let's go…
"Were NY Pollsters Just Playing a Joke on Chavez?" That was the typically cheeky headline on an item about the Venezuela election in The Hotline political digest (nationaljournal.com) this week. The item quoted a press release from the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Assoc. saying, "Exit Poll Results Show Major Defeat for Chavez." The release, dated 7:30 p.m., said, "With Venezuela's voting set to end at 8 p.m. EST according to election officials, final exit poll results from Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, an independent New York-based polling firm, show a major victory for the 'Yes' movement, defeating Chavez in the Venezuela presidential recall referendum." The poll showed 59 percent in favor of recalling Chavez, 41 percent against. The next morning, Chavez was declared the winner by an almost exact opposite margin. "About 58 percent said 'no' to a recall, while 42 percent said 'yes,'" wrote the Washington Post. The Hotline was evidently having a little fun twitting a polling firm. But was the result as clear as they—and official election observer Jimmy Carter—thought? There is good reason to believe it was not. In fact, it's something of a scandal that American news media have been taking the official vote count in Venezuela at face value. There is very good reason to believe that the exit poll had the result right, and that Chavez's election officials—and Carter and the American media—got it wrong.
Narco News Chainsaw Translation:
What upsets Barone has little to do with Venezuela or referendum results. It is, rather, that his pals at Penn, Schoen & Berland have been made laughing stocks over at The Hotline, a subscriber-only ($3,795 dollars a year, as of four years ago… the publisher's own website doesn't reveal how much it costs now in 2004). This expensive weekday insider daily for two kinds of people: those who get the big bucks for doing political consulting, and those who pay the big bucks. The rest of us are locked out of the game.
In other words, being ridiculed on The Hotline is the worst thing that could have happened to the future business prospects of Penn, Schoen & Berland. That is why the archconservative Barone has come to their aid. Now, read on: let's get to the specifics…
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has been running an authoritarian regime. By various means he has taken control of the legislature, the courts, the armed services and the police. His thugs have been intimidating and even killing the regime's opponents. Narco News Chainsaw Fact-Check:
Hmmm. According to Barone, an elected government's "control" of the three branches of government and law enforcement agencies is somehow "authoritarian." We ask: Who, other than the voters, via the ballot box, should control the government? It is not Chávez who picked a majority in the Congress. It was the voters! The army and the police, as in the United States, answer to the executive branch of government. If not that, who does Barone propose direct law enforcement? The courts, also, as in the United States, have judges chosen by the executive branch, subject to legislative review and approval.
What Barone calls "authoritarian" is, in fact, democracy itself. Barone reveals his hostility to an authentically democratic system of government, in which the vote of a poor man and woman has the same weight as that of a rich man and woman. As for Barone's canard about intimidation and "even killing" of "the regime's" opponents: there has been a comparable (albeit very low for any Latin American nation) amount of killing on both sides of the Venezuela conflict.
Few in the English-language Commercial Media have spoken of the drive-by shooting against Chávez voters last Sunday in Petare, where 12 were wounded and one voter died. Bloomberg reported on Monday:
"In this year's referendum, the only violence reported so far was a shooting in the capital, Caracas, that killed one person and injured 12. The gunfire came from a vehicle passing near a line of voters in the eastern Petare neighborhood at about 5 p.m. local time yesterday…." Petare voted 70 percent in favor of Chávez; whoever shot into that crowd knew that the vast majority of victims would be Chavistas… but the English-language press barely touched it, preferring to make a huge deal over wealthier victims of another shooting a day later… and so it goes, eternally, with a Commercial Media that values rich people's lives over the rest of ours.
The only source Barone offers for his claims is a Wall Street Journal opinion columns - not a single news article - by the discredited Thor Halvorssen (who, last year, tried to float the lie that Chávez had funded Osama bin Laden! He was smacked down by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (a watchdog group that is often critical of Chavez), in this revealing letter to the Washington Times, which showed that Halvorssen violated journalistic ethics by not revealing - get this - that he was once Venezuela's drug czar under the corrupt pre-Chávez regimes! Read the whole thing, it's quite astonishing, really, that anyone still publishes the work of that professional liar).
Barone also offered - and this is funny! - a link to a column that had no mention of Venezuela at all. In his haste to defend his fellow beltway insiders, Barone is just as sloppy as the pollsters he defends.
Barone's ideological lens is cloudy indeed. He writes, in antiquated Cold War nostalgia, that Chávez is, "an enemy of the United States, and he has shown no commitment to democratic principles." Let's see… the guy has won, now, eight national elections in six years! How does that show a lack of commitment to democratic principles? Barone doesn't elaborate.
As Doug Schoen of Penn Schoen points out, his firm has conducted exit polls in Mexico and, just a few days ago, in the Dominican Republic, which produced results very close to the election results. Narco News Chainsaw Fact-Check:
Barone doesn't mention the big missing fact from his claim: that Penn & Schoen's unethical behavior in Mexico, in 2000, violated the law, and caused a national polemic by editorial boards and journalists well vetted, at the time, by Narco News (see my update from earlier this week for links and details of Penn, Schoen & Berland's history as electoral delinquents in Mexico, for the archived facts).
Mark Penn points out that the firm conducted two previous exit polls in Venezuela, both of which were on the mark. Narco News Chainsaw Fact-Check:
Barone doesn't mention, here, that those polls were taken by subcontractors - professional pollsters - whereas Penn, Schoen & Berland's "exit poll" on Sunday was taken by extremist, upper-class "volunteers" (read: partisan ideologues, incapable of following basic polling methodology, from a group, Sumate, already caught in a gigantic web of knowing falsehoods and deceit toward the public and press). Barone does mention it later in his column, though, and our chainsaw will get there in a moment…
Warren Mitofsky's firm, Mitofsky International, has produced exit polls with similar results in Mexico and Russia. Mitofsky recalls that in 1994, Mexican President Carlos Salinas, seeking credibility with foreign investors for that year's Mexican elections, asked him for advice on what to do. Allow independent exit polls, Mitofsky advised, sponsored by the media, and allow the results to be announced soon after the voting. Mitofsky's exit poll results, announced soon after the polls closed, did in fact come close to the official results, as did another Mitofsky poll in 2000. More important, they provided independent confirmation of the fairness of the count. Narco News Chainsaw Fact-Check:
Barone's citing of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari as an agent of "credibility" in elections is one of the factoids that makes Barone a laughing stock, today, of all who have covered and followed recent Mexican history. Salinas is the inventor of electoral computer fraud in Latin America. That fact is undisputed. For details, see my accounts, with links to original source materials, of the 1988 "election" in Mexico that Salinas stole, and the very same 1994 election cited by Barone, that Salinas directed, so that his hand-picked candidate could steal it. Paging The Hotline: Don't let Barone get away with this one. He deserves the most punishing ridicule imaginable for citing the narco-president Salinas as a friend of clean elections.
In Venezuela, Schoen's firm was hired by businessmen who were almost surely opponents of Chavez. The Chavez regime intimidated local interviewing firms, who refused to provide interviewers for Penn Schoen at the polls. As a result, the firm trained volunteers. Critics of the firm might argue that these volunteers, undoubtedly mostly anti-Chavez, may have tried to present a false result. But that would in fact be difficult to do. Mitofsky points out that in countries emerging from autocracy into democracy, about 90 percent of voters approached by exit pollsters agree to participate. That is almost double the rate in the United States. Moreover, exit pollers work in teams; there would have to be massive collusion for them to produce fraudulent results. The Penn Schoen exit poll was conducted at about 200 polling places and produced more than 20,000 responses. Changing those results from something like 42-58 (the Chavez announced figure) to 59-41 would be quite a feat. Narco News Chainsaw Fact-Check:
Violating all journalistic ethics, Barone withholds the key fact from his narrative: that the "volunteers" came from a leading opposition group, Sumate! And Barone's unsourced, unsubstantiated, claim of supposed "intimidation" against polling firms is made a lie by the fact that all the Venezuela polling companies did frequent polls during this campaign. If they didn't share their workers with Penn, Schoen & Berland, it was not a matter of intimidation, but quite the opposite: It's that they had so much work and business themselves that they didn't have workers to spare!
In any case, Barone, who fancies himself as a political expert, ought to know better: Many polling firms go into other countries and recruit their own workers. It is a simple process. You take out Help Wanted adds in the newspapers, interview prospective employees, and hire them! The claim that Penn, Schoen & Berland had to rely on a partisan group for "volunteers" reveals the first major flaw in the methodology behind the bogus "exit poll." Volunteers, by nature, have an axe to grind. That two would have to agree to cook results together is hardly convincing: the entire recent history of Venezuela has been fraught with such agreements among oligarchs to lie and cheat - to even attempt coups d'etat! - to get their way.
And even if one gives the benefit of the doubt to these squalid "volunteers," I repeat my observation of the other day: Has anyone seen these Sumate people? They wear fancy imported clothes and jewelry, all their visible leaders are whiter than bleach, they have hundred-dollar haircuts on their five dollar heads, and if one of them were to place himself or herself outside a polling place, they would be shunned by the Venezuelan masses, educated in the necessity to distrust the games by the upper classes. You can smell the Chanel perfume on these people from around the corner! They're the last people who can get accurate results from the poor and working masses.
The problem with the Penn, Schoen & Berland poll was in its methodology: unprecedented in the history of credible exit polling. No serious polling firm would rely on partisan "volunteers."
Furthermore, in violation of the ethics code of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), Penn, Schoen & Berland have still not disclosed the methodology. Were these polltakers really "volunteers"? Or were some, or all, of them already on the staff of Sumate? The pollsters continue to withhold the real facts.
Chavez had every motive for cheating: polls before the election mostly showed him under 50 percent, and he should have reasonably concluded that those not for him were against. Adjusting the count was one sure way to win. Narco News Chainsaw Fact-Check:
Barone again withholds a key fact: those very same polls showed Chávez winning! The poll by Stanley Greenberg, for example, had the pro-Chávez "NO" vote at 49 percent… compared to only 44 percent for the opposition! Using Barone's own logic, the pre-election polls gave the incentive to cheat to the losing side of those polls, not to the confident victors (and since I was in Venezuela prior to the vote, and speak the language fluently, I can also testify that the consensus of Chavistas and all international political reporters prior to election day was that Chávez would win handily. I reported this, from Venezuela, prior to the vote, on August 12th.) Barone, who didn't set foot in Venezuela during this campaign (or ever?), is making up fictions to support his flimsy defense of his now disgraced beltway buddies.
It's shameful, really, for a guy who prides himself on having visited every congressional district in the United States and implies that anyone who hasn't can't report as accurately as he does. Barone is famous for that hubris, but he doesn't apply the same standard to his remote-control fantasies about Venezuela.
By way of comparison, Penn Schoen has no motive whatever for cheating. Narco News Chainsaw Fact-Check:
Penn, Schoen & Berland didn't have to "cheat," per se, for its poll results to have been so wrong, wrong by 36 percentage points. They simply did a sloppy job at methodology. They let activists run their "exit poll" for them when they should have known better. And then when the results proved disastrously inaccurate, they then had all the motive in the world to deny it. Why? Because for Penn, Schoen & Berland to admit that their methodology was so errant, that they cut corners and handed their "exit poll" over to U.S.-government funded extremists and partisans, would call into question the professionalism of Penn, Schoen & Berland.
Penn, Schoen & Berland were left with just two options after the vote: to admit that they screwed up their methodology in unprofessional ways, or to cry "fraud." Note that Penn, Schoen & Berland - like the partisans that hired them - do not offer a shred of evidence as to how the "fraud" was supposedly carried out (which is why not a single observer from the Carter Center to the OAS believes him). Doug Schoen simply claims that his poll was right and everybody else's (including the Evans McDonough exit poll that showed a 55 percent to 45 percent victory for Chavez, and was within the professional margin of error to the final result of 59-41) was wrong. What a crybaby!
I can understand why Schoen stonewalls - contrary to Barone's defense, Schoen has all the motive in the world to deceive… he's just trying to blow smoke to cover his own ass and deflect from his unprofessional corner-cutting, his violation of Venezuelan law, his violations of the AAPOR ethics code (by refusing to disclose his methodology, as all serious pollsters do), his use of partisans to staff the poll, and his woefully inaccurate results.
Mark Penn's defense - that Penn, Schoen & Berland have polled accurately in Venezuela before - is equally unconvincing: That's because THEY DIDN'T USE PARTISAN "VOLUNTEERS" IN THOSE PREVIOUS EXIT POLLS!
Barone concludes with a defense of "exit polls" in general (something no one has taken issue with):
Independent exit polls are one of the guarantors of democracy in countries emerging from or under authoritarian rule. Political junkies may think it amusing that there is such a wide discrepancy between an exit poll and official results. But for people in Venezuela and perhaps in other parts of Latin America it's more likely to be tragic. Narco News Chainsaw Fact-Check:
Exit polls can be, and usually are, a good thing. The Evans McDonough exit poll, for example, was accurate within the margin of error. That is not the question at hand.
At issue is the sloppy methodology by Penn, Schoen & Berland, and the reprehensible post-referendum accusations by Doug Schoen of "fraud" that he can't and doesn't substantiate or document.
The whole world is wrong, but Schoen is right?
Carter is wrong but Schoen is right?
The OAS is wrong but Schoen is right?
Evans McDonough is wrong but Schoen is right?
The consensus of every international political reporter on the ground in Venezuela is wrong but Schoen, sitting on his ass in New York City, is right?
All the pre-referendum polls were wrong but Schoen is right?
The will of the voters is wrong but Schoen is right?
Schoen's stance is childish and irresponsible. He and his company did not act professionally or legally, and now he is in hot water, with the temperature rising.
And that another beltway insider, Michael Barone, comes to his defense in the you-wash-my-back-I'll-wash-yours incest between Washington political columnists and Washington pollsters and political consultants is unconvincing. Vroom, Vrooooom, indeed!
(Miami Herald) Crooked computer programmers defeat will of the people. By Carlos Alberto Montaner. August 24, 2004.
Iwas wrong. On Aug. 15, I published an article in the Madrid newspaper ABC in which I predicted a comfortable victory for the opposition against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
It was the day of the referendum. I based my prediction on four authoritative polls and on one fact that seemed definitive: According to the surveys, 55 percent of the women opposed Chávez, 39 percent supported him. That 16 percent difference was insurmountable. It was a transversal vote that ran through the nation's entire social spectrum. It seemed that the opposition should win without difficulty, and Chávez would be unable to resort to fraud, given the avalanche of votes against him.
That same afternoon, I phoned Caracas to find out how the voting was going. My sources confirmed my prediction. According to exit polls conducted after six million voters had participated, 59 percent of the people said that they had voted against Chávez, and 41 percent said that they had supported him.
I asked who had conducted the exit polls and was told that three different companies did them. Among them was Penn, Schoen & Berland, former President Clinton's pollsters, a New York firm famous for its accuracy. Its margin of error was 1 percent, and throughout its professional history the firm had never erred.
Just in case, I asked about the size of the sample, and the answer was conclusive: They had selected 267 polling places throughout the country and had taken the required precautions by picking the voters equitably. There was no doubt. The opposition had triumphed by a margin of almost 20 percent.
That kind of survey can fail if the voters lie. But that happens only when they fear reprisals and, obviously, to say that they voted for Chávez would not generate any sanctions.
By 5 p.m., all well-informed people in Venezuela and abroad knew that Chávez had been soundly defeated. But then the president of the National Electoral Council, Tomás Carrasquero, a contumacious Chavista who, like El Cid, wins battles after he's dead, announced two startling decisions: The referendum would be extended for several hours, and he was going to take a nap.
His task consisted of proclaiming Chávez's victory, and he wouldn't even have to invent the results because they would emerge from the official computers. Technically, he would not lie. He was an accomplice with a good alibi that would serve him well if someday he were brought before the courts of justice.
And so it was. The computers declared Chávez the winner with approximately 60 percent of the votes, while the opposition garnered only 40 percent. The predicted results had been reversed, almost to the millimeter.
In other words, the exit polls, which are not infallible but usually operate with a minimal margin of error, for the first time in the history of electoral surveying had erred by 40 percent, something practically impossible to believe.
Evidently, we are looking at an electronic fraud that the opposition is beginning to document patiently and with difficulty. The programs of thousands of computers were skillfully altered to limit the votes against Chávez.
This was a virtual, not real, victory, but it was enough to legitimize the government's triumph in the eyes of the international agencies and particularly the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, which announced Saturday that their audit supported the official results.
These two agencies know that agreeing with the opposition would plunge the country into a conflict that could drift into violence and inevitably will have international repercussions.
Strictly speaking, it is possible to understand the dilemma that Jimmy Carter and César Gaviria face. Formally, Chávez won, although they may suspect, even without conclusive proof, that he won in a fraudulent manner.
What to do? In my opinion, the most sensible thing would have been not to make a pronouncement, but rather create an international tribunal of experts to analyze and verify the electoral results. After all, neither the representatives of the Carter Center sent to Venezuela nor the OAS observers have the technical capability to analyze criminal manipulations of computer software.
I began this article conceding that I had erred by believing the electoral predictions in Venezuela. How did I err? I erred by believing that, faced with a huge defeat, Chávez would have to submit to the will of the people. Chávez was not counting on the people for his victory. A handful of crooked computer programmers would suffice. I should have realized this sooner. My regrets.