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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 10:33 GMT
Exit poll farce: Who is to blame?
TV predictions proved inaccurate during election night. Have the networks gone too far in the battle for ratings?
The Bush camp accuses TV channels of calling the results before all the votes had been cast .
With Al Gore having to retract a speech conceding defeat at the last moment, should the media be forced to behave more responsibly?
Could history have been changed by an over-zealous media?
Patrick, Dayton, USA
The "confusion" is a result of an incompetent news media. Millions have been paid to people who are too incompetent to do their jobs. "News" journalists don't have enough sense to ask a question of the person uttering a charge of any kind. No one asks for facts to support allegations.
Without resorting to the courts, this election should illustrate the power of democracy. Considering the state of the world, I would hope that the media would try to portray this situation as a triumph. After all, we are in a position where individual votes truly do count! This is now the situation in the largest and arguably strongest democracy in the world and the media call it a fiasco. The only fiasco is that the media's greed for instant answers has been de-railed by the electorate.
Richard Hicks, Amarillo, Texas, USA
The critical thing which seems to be being overlooked is that the TV stations called the result in Florida, not just while people in other states were voting but while people in the Republican "Pan Handle" area of Florida were still voting. Calling this state for Al Gore, even before the polling stations closed must have had a galvanising effect on Republican voters in that area and so affected the result unfairly in favour of the Republicans. This can hardly be called a free and fair election.
A suggestion to all of you outside the US who are criticising our democracy: The next time you get in a jam and need our help in the form of the US military, don't call us, we will call you.
I flicked from one channel to the other on Tuesday night and all I heard from these so-called experts was Gore wins Florida. No Bush wins Florida. No Florida is undecided.
Then they said, "We predicted this would happen."
After I heard that I gave up and went to bed¿
That was the worst nightmare and I wasn't even asleep
Speculation always has a habit of not being accurate. Would it have been easier if they borrowed a swingometer?
Elections in the UK regularly give the same result: more people vote against the winning party than for it. This has been forgotten in this country! Why is it that only the Democrats were confused about the ballot paper in Florida?
David Furness, London, England
It seems to me that the initial exit polls were in fact right. Florida goes to Gore. They will have predicted that on the answers they got asking the voters how they actually voted. Including the voters who thought they had voted for Gore and who undoubtedly said so - it is a fact. Florida has gone to Gore. Only this absurd irregularity (Gore-Buchanan) makes the official count and outcome different. So the networks were fast, perhaps to fast. But they were predicting the outcome as it should have been.
Yes, the networks got ahead of themselves in forecasting a winner based on exit polls. But beyond that, states shouldn't release polling results until all the votes are counted. And no state should release information on national races until the last vote has been cast in Alaska.
Adam Bartelmay, USA
American elections bewilder me as well, not just other people. Admission to the debates should be based upon the number of states in which candidates are on the ballot, instead of 15% rating in the polls. Second, elections should be publicly financed without dirty money from corporations and other non-human entities.
Third, we need to amend our constitution to abolish the Electoral College.
Lastly, issues in American politics are created by the media. People get concerned about what they see on TV. That's why there is such a frenzy of prison-building in the US now. Not that there are any real criminals in those prisons - the real criminals, corporate criminals simply get fined or nothing at all.
Billy Todd, South Carolina, USA
The current debacle with the US election
is partially a result of the American
news media trying to manipulate the thinking
of voters. The owners and members of
the US media overwhelmingly vote
Democratic. Their purpose in creating the
confusion around the election has to do with
two things - they want to cast doubt on
a Republican win and they want to
keep the suspense up as long as
possible to make as much money as
possible from advertising as the
election story is extended.
It amazes me that many world leaders sent messages of congratulations to Mr Bush based on TV coverage.
I hope they all don't use the media to make all their decisions for them!!!
Sue Russell, UK
Looking for the bright side to a dismal
situation - we will not have to listen to
a President talking about his "mandate
from the people".
I believe this election will call for a major reform of the US election system. With Gore winning the popular vote and the uncertainty of the electoral votes, it is an embarrassment to the democractic system. However, while I won't deny that my country has faults, it was America that first instituted democracy, and it is America that has sustained it for over two hundred years. We Americans and our Government may have faults, but they can't compare to the long embarrassing histories of other countries - countries that have held, and still hold, the same arrogance that is portrayed on Americans. It is easy to expose the faults of others but not as easy to see one's own faults. Maybe someday we will all mature!!
Raymond Vallée, France
It's now clear that a handful of votes in Florida will make the final decision.
One of the apparent reasons for the confusion is the mishandling of the voting process across the state; ballot boxes not counted; votes credited to the wrong candidate, etc.
George W. Bush's brother is Governor of Florida.
It's a small world.
I think, like many other people, I was amazed that who won or lost a state seemed to be based on exit polls and not the polls themselves. If you look at Florida, the exit polls don't take into account postal and other types of voting. I can't see it changing though, since too many people and companies seem to have a vested interest in keeping things as they are.
What a farce! As bad or even worse than the release of the Indonesian election results!
In 1989, after being born in England and living there for more than 40 years, my wife and I came to live in Florida. In 1999 we became American citizens and thus had the first opportunity to vote in this election. Although it may seem a farce to Europeans that the TV networks could prematurely announce the winner of the Presidential election, the real concern for us is that the people voted in the majority for a candidate who may "lose" the election and have to watch the other man become President because of the "electoral college". This system, originated by the founding fathers of our adopted country, must be changed.
Tim Miller, England
It does sound funny that the most technologically advanced country in the world has to 'recount' all the votes in one state. Sounds more like something you would expect in Yugoslavia or some African countries.
I agree that TV stations should not dictate winners based on unclear conclusions prior to all votes being cast and counted.
It HAS gone way too far, I'm ashamed
of how our elections are covered.
Maybe it would be better if we had an 'official' TV
network, like they do at the Olympics?
Of course, I think the Electoral College
has to go, too, which would simplify all
of the second-guessing the talking heads
were doing all night on the TV stations.
It is obviously the national media's fault. They base their predictions on very little information, and while I believe that they are generally reliable, the networks went into this race knowing that in some states that Bush or Gore could win the state by a couple hundred votes. They should have known better. I watched one network here that projected Gore would win Florida and then took it back saying it was too close to call. This was not a problem for me, people make mistakes. I think where the networks are at fault is giving the state to Bush, when they knew that it was a very tight race and that they might have to retract.
I realise that many people think it is a farce that this election will come down to one state and 1700 hundred voters, but in this election more than any other every vote counts.
Bob Lomax, UK
In Britain, opinion polls are not permitted on the day of the election and exit polls are announced (often with major errors such as 1992's Labour victory) only when the polling booths close. We also get all postal votes in by the day of the election so that they can be counted together. A country which cannot put in place a system like this to ensure some semblance of democracy deserves a Republican President, Senate and Congress.
Is everyone REALLY surprised by the TV electoral farce? The whole campaign has been a "farce of democracy" with no-one but the two Corporate Party pawns on display. Where were Nader, Buchanan, Browne and Hagelin when the debates were broadcast? How often were any other views/ issues besides George and Al's covered by any of the major networks?
The problem is not the exit polls; it is the electoral college. It is old and antiquated. The Constitution needs to be amended to allow for the election of the President by popular vote, and not by a state-by-state basis that the electoral college is based on.
Haroon Abbasi, UK
I'm originally from Canada, which has the same
issues concerning timezones and releasing election
results that the US does. I was surprised to learn
last night that it's standard practice to publicise
the results of voting in the east before polls in
the west have even closed; in Canada, results can't
be released in a region until polls have closed in
that region. Thus, voters in the east can watch the
results come in across the country, but voters
in the west won't see any results until "they" have
finished. Poll opening and closing hours are staggered
across the country to minimise the difference in closing
time so that people don't have to wait too long.
I think that this is a system that the US should consider
Will Mrs Clinton run for President in 4 years time?
To call results based on exit polls and precinct analysis where the margin of error is +-2% is absurd when the 2 candidates are only .5% split.
Mark B, UK
I understand that in excess of $30bn has been spent on the election. This is an obscene amount of money that appears to fuel a 'corrupt system', at face value. If the permitted expenditure by any one party or interest was restricted then the apparent influence from the Lobby that can donate the most money would be controlled and a more balance and pro-active agenda could be delivered by the candidate.
Whilst I agree that it is dangerous to rely too much on the opinion polls, before we criticise too much we should think back to our elections in the UK. I recall the pollsters incorrectly calling the General Election before last for Labour as soon as the polls closed, only to have to backtrack later when it turned out the Tories had won it.
My understanding is that the US TV networks only call a state if the polls show a 10% lead to a candidate; inevitably occasionally even this magnitude of a lead will evaporate as the votes are counted.
Anne, Mass, USA
The US election was a farce when it started, and it would seem that it is going to end in the same way!
Why people should suppose that the US press should be any more responsible than the press organisations elsewhere, completely escapes me. The prestige for a journalist to be the first to call a result can only be matched by the humiliation of the first paper to call it wrong.
Oh come on lets not get sanctimonious about this; the Sun for years got the Tories elected (It was us wot done it...1992 headline remember). An exit poll is still just an opinion poll, believe them at your peril.
Andrew Hicks, North Carolina, USA
Blaming polls and TV stations is a bit like blaming the doctor when
he does a blood-test and you don't like the results. Nobody really believes that
exit-polls are as accurate as the pollsters claim; it's all part of the razzmatazz and
fun of election-night!
Exit polls, like any opinion poll, should be taken with a fair dose of salt.
At the UK general election of 1992, BBC exit polls suggested a hung parliament, so there were a lot of red faces when John Major emerged with a majority of 21!
Similarly, in 1997 opinion polls consistently said that Labour had around 53-55%, some ten percentages points higher than the figure achieved in the general election - although Labour still enjoyed an enormous majority under our quirky system.
The reason polls should be treated with caution is because many people are reluctant to say who they would really vote for. In the UK, this factor is due to so-called "shy Tories".
Mike Richards: you are amazed that the law allows them to publish exit polls before the election is done?
For the US to pass a law disallowing that would be absolutely in defiance of the US Constitution.
Hey! It's just your run of the mill media
feeding frenzy. What's to understand.
After all, we don't have Royals to kick
around so we have to have some fun don't
we? The secret is to watch Buffy, watch
Angel, read a book, and stay off the
regular TV channels. The next day, check
out the on line stuff to find out what
Mike Richards, UK
Next time why not save everyone the time and trouble of voting, get the US TV stations to conduct a straw poll of a couple of hundred voters in Florida (after all, they're the one's that are going to decide this thing) and then announce the result - neater TV schedules, less uncertainty and all the money saved can be spent training Americans how to pronounce "W" correctly!
Anders Dybwad, Norway
As for the TV's coverage I hope you've learnt a lesson - don't trust exit polls!
I watched the TV last night and they were basically writing Bush's political obituary because he had apparently won Florida.
Why don't they wait for the declarations like they do with a UK election?
You can't trust exit polls any more than opinion.
Typically American - all hype
Of course they have gone too far. Most non-Americans have been startled to find out just how unofficial the declaration system is. What if this had surfaced after Gore made a public concession and Bush publicly accepted the Presidentship? As well as being an extreme case of style over substance, it is a threat to democracy because western states could well have been influenced by premature reports of victories in the East. The whole system needs reforming - before the networks, I assume America had returning officers too. Their further "return" would be most welcome.
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