Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Anna Greenberg was directly on point with her thoughtful piece, "Why the Polls Were Wrong" [Jan. 1]. As someone who lives in the heart of the south Florida battleground, in Democratic-vote-rich Broward County, I would also provide an addendum. Just as the major polls were wrong for the reasons cited by Greenberg, let's also credit the election night Voter News Service with being accurate. While Republicans like James Baker decry the networks' "erroneous" initial call for Gore, all one has to do--besides debate recounts, chads and hanging chads--is to factor in the 22,400 intended Gore votes in Palm Beach County, apportioned between overvotes for President and erroneously cast votes for Pat Buchanan. These people, whose votes did not ultimately count, were certainly factored into projected totals favoring Gore on election night. As Greenberg asserted, it was the second call, which went to Bush early Wednesday morning, that was in error. Of course, Baker and the Republican high command touted that projection as accurate.
New York City
It was not the polls that got it wrong this election. It was Anna Greenberg. The national pre-election polls reported by the media had their best polling performance since 1976. All ten traditional polls were within the margin of error. These polls had an average error on the winner of 1.1 percent. In the election Bush and Gore were almost dead even. Two polls had Gore ahead slightly, six had Bush ahead slightly, one was off by an average of 2.5 points each on Bush and on Gore and the Harris poll had the race even. There was one other poll that was significantly off. It used experimental interviewing methods and was not reported widely by the media. Rasmussen conducted it and issued an apology after the election.
Contrary to Greenberg's assertion, only two polls "'weighted up' the GOP share" to match the parties' usual share of the vote. Greenberg complimented one of those polls for its fine performance. None of the polls got the voter turnout wrong. All used the same methods they have used for years to assess likely voters.
Linking the pre-election polls to the networks' mistaken call of Bush as the winner in Florida on election night is just plain silly. None of the pollsters involved in the pre-election polls had any connection to the election night projections. The Bush projection was made from the 97 percent of the vote that had been counted by Florida voting officials.
One assertion Greenberg makes is disingenuous. The "internal Gore polling" she uses as a benchmark for what the public polls should have shown (a) was not available to the public, and therefore not subject to peer scrutiny; (b) was not constant over the last two weeks as she asserts; and (c) was partially the work of her father. The Nation should not be citing private partisan political polling as a standard against which to measure the public polls. The public polls disclose their methods, data and results. The partisan polls do none of these things.
Polling Review Board
National Council on Public Polls
I thank William Hare for his letter. Mitofsky, Taylor and O'Neill correctly note, as I did in my editorial, that many of the national poll results released on or close to Election Day fell within the margin of error. First of all, using the margin of error as the measure of accuracy is rather narrow, given the great volatility of the tracking polls and the wide variation among the polls during this election season. Second, the margin of error is somewhat tangential to the larger point that most of the national public polls favored Bush and that this perception of Bush's ascendancy influenced press coverage of the race prior to and after the election. Finally, while there were no official ties between these national public polls and the exit polls conducted by Voter News Service (a link I did not make in my editorial), to argue that the collective weight of these surveys did not influence press coverage of the election is also a bit silly.
The most perplexing aspect of the Mitofsky, Taylor and O'Neill letter is the notion that all the public polls release their "methods, data and results," making them subject to scrutiny and presumably greater accuracy than polls conducted for candidates. In fact, most national surveys commissioned by the media or released publicly for the purpose of public relations do not reveal either their likely voter screen or their weighting scheme. For instance, Harris Interactive Inc., headed by Humphrey Taylor, will not release the "propensity weighting" model it uses to weight its online political polls, despite the great interest of scholars and pollsters. If this election demonstrates anything, it is the need for even greater disclosure and scrutiny of the national public polls that so profoundly affect press coverage.
It should be said that it is rather gratuitous to suggest that my lineage prevents me from commenting on these matters. My observations stem from my training as a survey researcher, my scholarship as faculty at Harvard and my experience as a consultant to the Gore polling project. It is troubling that the representatives of the National Council on Public Polls feel they need to challenge criticism of the national polls in such a manner after an election season of widely acknowledged volatility and variation among the polls and the disastrous miscalls on election night.
HEIL TO THE THIEF
Thank you for your editorial proposing electoral disobedience ["Wanted: Three Electors," Dec. 25]. It is horrifying to observe the country calmly accepting the hijacked "selection"--not election--of George W. Bush as President. He should be called the President-select, not -elect.
GAIL JENSEN SANFORD
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Thanks for Gore Vidal's "Democratic Vistas" [Jan. 8/15]. There are only two things that help me sleep through the night since that Black Day of American History, December 12, 2000:
(1) At least Twig got my lousy governor out of my great state of Wisconsin.
(2) Bring on the gridlock!
MONICA VAN LIESHOUT
"Welcome to Asunción." Not a bad line for Gore Vidal to end an editorial with. But my question is: So what are we going to do about it? Not about the simian shrub: He's the properly buttressed puppet his daddy wanted when he invited GOP pols down to Austin over the past few years to look him over--nice specimen, amenable, gets along with people, not a challenger. Hey boys, time to turn in your chits on my boy's (repeatedly) failed oil ventures (they'd already taken the tax write-offs), and let's make some hay! So they did. And they will own him because he owes them. Big time. Lotta chits.
But something concrete can come out of this if a movement coalesces to update voting technology around the country. Simian shrub enters the big house with the biggest surplus in history. Any reason why, prior to a budget-blowing tax cut for the rich, we can't dole out some to the 3,000+ counties for techie updating? Not to fight the simian shrub--he's in, and we don't care for the spectacle of civil war, thank you. Been there, done that, great for local pageantry, not for a national agenda.
What if, as a result of this fiasco that saw underfunded counties throw away thousands of votes for god-only-knows-who, everybody said, You know, it doesn't have to be that inane next time. We can do something about this. The fiasco, including the Supreme Court's choosing the President, may be great fodder for journalists and their magazines, but it doesn't do much to inspire faith in the system that's supposed to have fairness as its social glue. Not much glue left. But we can fix squeaky voting methods. We may not be able to stop Plan Colombia or shut down the war machine. There will be plenty of rhetoric to ignore. Simians shriek in the jungle, and so will these. But we can modernize the voting booth.
Anybody want to get concrete, start talking about such a stodgy, nonideological point? Anybody want to get practical? I thought so. Asunción is so much more romantic.
ANN P. WHITE
TWO. TWO. TWO VOTES IN ONE!
I had only one vote to give to George W. Bush, but Chief Justice Rehnquist apparently had two. (Though I favored Bush, I was shocked by the decision of the Supreme Court cutting off Gore from a recount.) It might interest your readers to know how Rehnquist came to have two.
It is probable that Rehnquist obtained his confirmation as Associate Justice in 1971, and later as Chief Justice in 1986, by making false statements before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning his writing in 1952, when he was clerk to Justice Robert Jackson, of a legal memorandum in support of segregation when Brown v. Board of Education was before the Court. Jackson died in 1954.
In 1971, when Rehnquist, a Nixon nominee, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was confronted with his 1952 memo. He stated that the memo was written, at Jackson's request, for use at a conference of the Justices as a statement of Jackson's views concerning the constitutionality of segregation. Rehnquist restated his claim before the committee in 1986 when nominated for Chief Justice. If, as it appears, Rehnquist lied, he committed the despicable act of putting into the mouth of the dead Jackson a racist position that Jackson would have denounced from his grave, if that had been possible.
After Rehnquist's confirmation as Chief Justice, an examination of the papers of Justice Jackson at the Library of Congress disclosed Jackson's draft of his unissued concurrence in Brown, a document unequivocally declaring segregation unconstitutional, and wholly "inconsistent with Rehnquist's assertion that his memo was intended to state Jackson's rather than Rehnquist's view on the constitutionality of segregation." Thus, the pointed judgment of one of the great scholars of our constitutional law, Bernard Schwartz in A History of the Supreme Court, and Richard Kluger in his monumental work, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality.
Had Jackson's draft of his unissued concurrence in Brown been known to the Senate when it voted on Rehnquist's nomination in 1971, it undoubtedly would have deprived Rehnquist of a seat on the Supreme Court, to say nothing of the Chief Justiceship. Chief Justice Warren, however, had rightly persuaded the court in Brown to speak in one, unanimous opinion.
Had Jackson issued his concurring opinion in Brown, Rehnquist would not be on the Court and would have had, like me, only one vote to give to Bush.