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Why I Rule, pt 73

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I wrote this Monday about budding conspiracy theories regarding the election:

    Unexpected, jarring events — such as Sen. John Kerry’s relatively decisive loss to President Bush in last week’s election — can cause a cognitive dissonance that some seek to explain by denying “apparent” reality rather than coming to terms with the meaning of that reality.

    ….Similar “anomalies” from 2000: perhaps then they are just “anomalies,” just as “Bush’s bulge” had a rather prosaic explanation. Rural Southern Democrats voting for Bush in an election that was set up along value lines of “us” vs. “them”? Sounds like the rural Southern Democrats went with “us,” just as social conservatives across the nation did in overwhelming numbers: those who cited values as their top priority (22%) voted for Bush over Kerry by 80 to 18 percent. And cultural conservatives turned out in greater numbers this time over 2000, for example, 5% higher in Ohio.

Various mainstream media have been picking up the theme and saying remarkably similar things over the last couple of days. The Washington Post weighs in today:

    Even as Sen. John F. Kerry’s campaign is steadfastly refusing to challenge the results of the presidential election, the bloggers and the mortally wounded party loyalists and the spreadsheet-wielding conspiracy theorists are filling the Internet with head-turning allegations. There is the one about more ballots cast than registered voters in the big Ohio county anchored by Cleveland. There are claims that a suspicious number of Florida counties ended up with Bush vote totals that were far larger than the number of registered Republican voters. And then there is the one that might be the most popular of all: the exit polls that showed Kerry winning big weren’t wrong — they were right.

    ….Ultimately, none of the most popular theories holds up to close scrutiny. And the people who most stand to benefit from the conspiracy theories — the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee — are not biting.

    ….The Ohio vote-fraud theory appears to stem from the curious ways of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. During even-numbered years the county’s canvassing board posts vote totals that include the results from outside the county from congressional districts that spill over Cuyahoga’s borders. The quirk made it look as if the county had 90,000 more votes than voters.

    ….The Florida case is more nuanced than the Ohio voting battle. Numerous bloggers have noted that President Bush’s vote totals in 47 Florida counties were larger — in some cases much larger — than the number of registered Republican voters in the same counties. A widely distributed piece on said the results “are so statistically stunning that they border on the unbelievable.”

    …the central premise — that there is something suspicious about Bush getting more votes than the number of registered Republicans in rural counties, which use paper ballots — may not be suspicious at all.

    It is does not account for thousands of independents or for voters who do not list party affiliation. It is also common for Florida Democrats, particularly the “Dixiecrats” in the northern reaches of the state and the Panhandle, to vote for Republicans, a pattern that is repeated in much of the Deep South.

    ….The theories on exit polls are even more slippery. Because the early exit polls that were leaked and caused so much excitement among Democrats are not publicly distributed, the criticisms have not been based on statistics. Instead there are comments such as those from Zvi Drezner, a professor at the California State University at Fullerton business and economics school, who wrote that “the exit polls did not ‘lie’ ” and described “a gut feeling that the machines did not report the correct count.”

    Many voting experts say the theory that the exit polls were correct is deeply flawed because the polls oversampled women. MIT political scientist Charles Stewart III also has said focusing solely on the early polls favoring Kerry in Ohio and Florida is the wrong approach because exit polls in some Democratic-leaning states tilted toward Bush, evening out the national picture.

    ….A high-ranking Democrat, mindful of balancing respect for the complainers and a desire to move on, summed up the conspiracy theorists with a line from Alexander Pope: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

You heard it here first.

Immodest? Cheerfully so.

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About Eric Olsen