Monday , May 27 2024

American Idol: Are the AOL Poll Results Reliable?

This week is the grand finale for American Idol – will it be Bo or Carrie, or should I say “Carrie or Bo”? We are subtly and not so subtly influenced by any number of factors in our preferences and since American Idol is decided by viewer voting, such influences — for example, the ongoing AOL American Idol poll — can be a factor in the voting.

With that in mind, check out the thorough research conducted by a fellow named Jim into the AOL poll results:

    The poll allows you to revote as much as you want. You might do one or a hundred votes by clicking and waiting etc. It doesn’t matter because it averages out when other people also vote for their favorites. So it’s pretty even and fair, right? But what if you found out that there was a way to bypass the manual clicking, and feed aol’s computer votes automatically and at high speed? What would you think if a person able to do this could put in 10,000 votes while having lunch? Or 80,000 votes while they sleep? Enough votes that it would completely reverse the positions of favorites that several hundred thousand people voted for. In a week it could vote over a million times. Also keep in mind that maybe only one person to less than ten may know how to do that. Or would be willing to do that. If it were like that, it would hardly be fair, or even be a real poll anymore. Well, that’s exactly what I discovered has been happening for 7 weeks now. 24/7.

    Most people don’t take polls too seriously, but at the same time, most glance at them believing there is some truth. Also if someone is #1 on a poll week after week, people will tend to notice they are consistantly #1 and form a good impression. I wondered if by Bo being #1 on the poll for 8 weeks in a row, would effect people’s judgement and eventually the media to the point they believed it too. Pretty soon I started seeing more and more write ups about Bo with, “If the polls are any indication of a winner then” blah blah, “then Bo is the next American Idol”.. That would further fuel that belief. I think Bo deserves to win as much as Carrie does, but I don’t like the idea of people being mislead. Especially since it’s the largest poll and it’s broadcast to aol users desktops.

    I got lucky and found a secret file that I doubt aol thinks people are going to find. There is special place that windows stores and keeps track of temporary internet files. Many people know of that, however there’s a much less known location that stores files that are invisible unless you happen to be right in the exact spot. Even if a person uses search for hidden files on their computer, it will not show up, unless they are exactly in the right spot. I went to that spot because I sometimes check it and I spotted a file called xmlpoll[1].xml. I opened it and to my surprise all of these details about the American Idol poll popped up!

    I looked at it briefly and spotted all of the contestants names along with vote totals for each one. I noticed that each contestant had several numbers with words next to the numbers. For example, Vonzell – authVote 490,147 – nonAuthVote 164,682 – allVotes 654,829 – percentage 42. I wondered what authVote and nonAuthVote were.. Then I realised it meant authorized and non authorized votes. I found out that it counts votes as non authorized votes when someone re-votes from the same computer too many times. At first I thought it was smartly throwing out revotes.

    But to my surprise aol was adding the authorized to the non authorized votes and making that the total. If you add them up in that example, they come to 654,829. To test how the non authorized votes were counted, I revoted a hundred times on a contestant that wasn’t getting many votes. I reloaded the secret file and noticed that the nonAuthVotes went up by 98 to 100. AOL can tell I’m revoting by my IP address or by storing numbers in that file.

    Because that poll it is set up to allow people to vote as much as they like, it kind of simulates phone voting. This way if someone is really enthusiastic, they can click the mouse 10, or 100 times and put that many votes in. Normally this averages out if people are voting fairly. So I think what happened is that AOL’s program knew how to discard the repeat voters, but then they decided it would be more fun to let enthusiastic fans vote all they liked. So that’s why they add those two figures together. Only problem is, that I doubt they envisioned someone voting at high speed automatically…

    Ok, so how did I discover it was being done automatically? One night, early on, I saw Bo’s percentage rising too quickly in the middle of the night. He was in 4th place and then was soon #1. Since AOL allows repeat votes to be kept, Bo’s percent went up quickly. But when looking at the numbers, most of Bo’s gain in votes were the non authorized votes! Looking at the other contestants, he had the most. Also the non authorized votes climbed at 7,000 votes per hour, even in the middle of the night. For exmaple. I did a percentage and found that other contestants would typically have about 14, 16% roughly. But Bo’s was like 87%!

    What a way to waste time, LOL. But once I saw this, I wanted to be more sure. So I started saving the vote numbers hourly up to about 2a.m. I noticed that everyone’s votes really slowed down at night, except Bo’s. His were coming in at 5,000 to 7,000 per hour! I set a clock and got up and checked at 3 and 4a.m and his was still ticking away at the same rate! The fact that it didn’t slow down when most of the country was sleeping was a big give away that it was automatic. His score was rising 1% every hour roughly and he’d eventually be in the lead.

    No matter what time of the night it was, it never slowed down, unless it was at least 10% in the lead. On Wed night, the poll would get reset to zero when someone went home and would start over with one less person.. I’d look and Bo’s numbers rose exactly the same way again. It’s done this for at least 7 weeks. So it’s quite obvious that someone is voting automatically. And of course the other big give away is the extreme number of repeat votes (non authorized votes), in that file.

    At the bottom of this letter is a very recent example showing Bo and Carrie. Skip the complex junk and look at the obvious stuff. Bo 62%, Carrie 38%. Notice how large Bo’s nonAuthVote value is at 913,293. His total is 1,141,710, but 80% of his votes are nonAuthVotes! If you look at Carrie’s, a majority of her votes are coming from AuthVotes. My guess is that they are desperately trying to get her votes up manually. Hopefully I haven’t bored you to tears, LOL. But this is the kind of thing that AOL should fix! It seems like the winner of the poll must have someone with the fastest computers voting. I think a way that AOL can fix this is to have people verify by typing in a word they see on the screen before each vote. Yahoo, for example makes you type in graphical letters that only a real person could see.

No, we aren’t talking about the American Idol voting itself, which really would be a scandal, but we are talking about a poll that hundreds of thousands of people participate in and assume reflects the actual preferences of the people voting. Jim’s research calls that assumption very much into question.

Go to his site for more data and explanation.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

Check Also


SXSW 2023: Connecting Your Brain to Computers

Brain Computer Interface technology will allow you to control the world with just your thoughts and bluetooth.