What Internet Polls Are Good For

In 2002, when the Modern Library announced its list of the 100 greatest novels, it invited online readers to submit their picks as well. Two groups rose to the challenge: the Randians and the Scientologists. Where the official top three consisted of Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the people's house picked Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and Mitt Romney's fave, Battlefield Earth.

That's the way Internet polls work. When the Modern Library turned its attention to nonfiction, The Virtue of Selfishness finished first and Dianetics was the runner-up; John Lott's More Guns, Less Crime made the top 10. (Some folks seemed to be voting methodically for everything in the Laissez Faire Books catalog.) In 1996, the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee, Harry Browne, did very well in various online surveys before wrapping up the election with a tiny 0.5% of the popular vote. And just this week, as I noted yesterday, one poll pronounced Fred Thompson the winner of the latest Republican debate even though Thompson wasn't actually on the stage.

This is why, despite all the emails I've received urging me to write about Ron Paul's strong performance in the Internet polls, I haven't been covering it. I like Paul, but Internet polls are meaningless as a measurement of anything but the enthusiasm of a candidate's supporters. I don't think, as some do, that Paul's performance is purely a product of cheaters spamming sites with multiple votes. There has been some of that, but the congressman does well even when the multi-voters are ferreted out and their ballots removed from the results. I just don't think it means a lot to win one of these contests.

But I have to laugh when the creators of these unscientific surveys try to find ways to discount Paul's wins without admitting the polls themselves are near-useless. When it became clear that Paul was doing well in Fox's text-messaging poll after the debate Tuesday night, for example, Fox host Carl Cameron suggested the congressman's supporters were gaming the system. He did not pause to ponder the point of offering a system so easily gamed. Nor did he admit that if the votes for Paul didn't mean much, the same was true of the remainder of the results.

Now the superhawks at Little Green Footballs have taken Paul out of their post-debate poll because -- well, I'll let the site itself explain it:

They aren't "cheating," as in voting multiple times, but they have sent out emails and posted the link to our poll at several spots on the web, urging people to go vote for Paul. The end result is the same -- the poll results are skewed, and it's not an accurate measure.

Internet polls are not scientific anyway, but when the gaming is this obvious I'm not going to let it slide, or to let our poll be misused by supporters of a man who, in my opinion, is nuts.

Unlike Fox, LGF is frank about the scientific quality of its survey. What it doesn't recognize is that the Paul backers' "misuse" of the poll is arguably the only legitimate use it has. I will say it again: Internet polls are meaningless as a measurement of anything but the enthusiasm of a candidate's supporters. If you're kicking out the enthusiasts, what's the point?

The Modern Library's polls might not tell us anything about what books are worth reading, but they do tell us a lot about which authors have especially devoted followings. These presidential polls won't tell us who's going to win the primaries, but they do give a good sense of who will still be running after the first few primaries have passed. You shouldn't expect Ron Paul to be his party's nominee next year. But you can expect him to be a thorn in the side of the big-government candidates for a long time yet.

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  • ||

    Damn, I had forgotten what a hateful bunch of pukes the LGF readers are. Not to mention good ol' tough-guy Charles.

  • ||

    LGF is shocked, shocked that some blogs or Web sites would suggest that their readers go vote in an on-line poll to support their preferred candidate or ideological postion.

    Daily Kos, Red State, Eschaton, Michelle Malkin express similar concerns.

  • ||

    The best part about mainstream media's Ron Paul coverage has to be the looks on their faces, like they had a live porcupine shoved up their ass, been forced to their knees, and are now confronting a smegma-laden turd. And the more he refuses to compromise his principles, or apologize for them, the more these douchebags look like they're ready to start dressing in black, smnoking cloves and slitting their wrists while listening to Joy Division.

  • ||

    Hey...I dress in black and listen to Joy Division (though Bauhaus is my preference)!

  • ||

    The polls are, of course, a joke. For all of the candidates (and for the books--I like Rand okay, but ye gods).

    But even if you don't like Paul, even if you aren't a libertarian, even if you prefer your candidates smooth and pretty, you can't deny the satisfaction of him disrupting and annoying the pre-anointed cadre and their pre-anointing media friends. I love the sound of awkward silence in the morning.

  • ||

    Internet polling doesn't measure enthusiam - it measures meaninglessness, hopelessness, got-nothing-better-to-do-in-my-mom's-basementness. To do well in an internet poll is to find out that you have the most losers for followers. Never a good thing.

  • ||

    I forgot the most obvious example - so blatant that it is a fairly widely used neologism.

    Let's go freep this poll!

    For full-bore existential terror The Fall have it all over Joy Division.

  • ||

    So called "scientific" polls can be rather useless at times as well. various factors, such as the questions asked, can skew a poll.

    I do find it curious though: if Ron Paul is supposedly a bottom rung candidate with little to no support, how come he has been consistently doing well in these polls and not easily outdone by McCain, Romney and Giuliani supporters? One would think that after Ron Paul's performance in the first round of internet polling earlier this month, the "big three" candidates would have an army of supporters ready to prevent a repeat. Could it really be that the average American has been inspired to support Dr. Paul in these polls?

  • ||

    My recently conducted insta-poll on this post shows that 100% of respondents say Okapi is right.

    ILL BE UP IN A MINUTE, MOM.

  • ||

    While we're on the subject, I'd like to draw attention to this whole matter of "democratic elections". While in these days (and especially as we approach November of '08), there's a lot of buzz about "elections" or "polling" in the media, I wish that people would just realize that all an election shows is how many people a candidate can galvanize to come out and vote. I mean geez, guys, forget about them!

  • ||

    Gene,
    It's because the "big three" can afford to ignore these. Paul's supporters, on the other hand, realize that they must do SOMETHING to get him on the map - and the big-money things that the big three can engage in are not open to them. However, with enough mom's basements out there, we can really kill in the internet polls.

    Maybe we should switch to all online voting for all elections. What kind of candidates would win then? No worse than we have now I posit.

  • ||

    "Given the many libertarian positions that are tough to spin in an election (e.g. legalized drugs) I would think he would refrain from creating others. I fully expect him to tout the traditional libertarian isolationism (which I don't subscribe to) but he had to know what would happen when he went where he did. It's not politically smart and as an elected rep he should know better and it discourages me as I take it as his candidacy is less serious than it should be."

    I just wanted to share the above from my "libertarian" friend yesterday here at work. (Naturally I tried to set him straight.)

  • Bhh||

    Listen people we're going to keep removing candidates until you learn to select the right ones.

  • Alex Hammer||

    See also:
    Rudy Giuliani vs. Ron Paul II
    "Rush Limbaugh says Ron Paul is "spamming polls" (Link)

    Meanwhile, online, there is a strong buzz (Link) that Ron Paul has been ignored by the mainstream media in regard to his impressive Internet demonstrated accomplishments
    http://digg.com/2008_us_elections/Rudy_Giuliani_vs_Ron_Paul_II/blog

  • Mr. X||

    Has anyone else seen this story about the conflict of interest between Fox News and Giuliani?

    "Rudy Giuliani's much-publicized but misleading put-down of Ron Paul during Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate should have been tempered by a report that Saudi Arabia, the country that spawned most of the 9/11 hijackers, has been one of Giuliani's lucrative foreign clients. However, Fox News questioners Chris Wallace and Wendell Goler did not bring it up.

    Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that the same Associated Press story that named Saudi Arabia as a Giuliani client listed News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, as another Giuliani client. This AP story, which was not disputed by Giuliani or News Corporation, was carried on the Fox News website."

    Seems a little odd, no?

  • Grotius||

    Someone please explain to me how these two statements aren't at odds with one another?

    The end result is the same -- the poll results are skewed, and it's not an accurate measure.

    Internet polls are not scientific anyway...

  • ||

    Howard Dean having a bunch of basement-dwellers supporting his campaign was major news that had legs for quite some time. Ron Paul having the same is not. Granted that Dean was considered more mainstream than Paul, but the fact remains that Paul is a Congressman and is running as a Republican. Both of which, I believe, place him several dozen notches above, say, a Green Party or Libertarian candidate.

    His domination in the on-line environment is worthy of note and can't be completely dismissed as insignificant. After all, it's not like there are only ten supporters out there doing all of this.

  • ||

    I'm a bit disgusted that the news outlets don't frankly admit that Ron Paul has a lot of support on the internet. I don't think that's such a huge admission, and probably doesn't help Paul's chances much.

    However, I warn you, any more mention of Rush Limbaugh and Spam, and I'll vomit right here.

  • ||

    You must have posted while I was typing. Sorry for the unintended plagiarism.

  • ||

    Granted that Dean was considered more mainstream than Paul

    Read: Dean was considered more willing to use government to solve all of our problems than Paul.

  • Edward||

    As a thorn in the side of the big-government candidates, Ron Paul is similar to a pimple on an elephant's ass. It's there, but does it matter?

  • ||

    If that pimple alters the elephants gate, then yes.

  • ||

    Pro Libertate - thanks for reminding me of the example of Howard Dean. Everyone thinks Dean lost because of the scream; the reality is that Dean screamed because he had lost.

    Everyone thought Dean had this groundswell of support, but like everything else internet, 90% of the people in the country ignored it.

    A study came out in the last two weeks about technology usage, and it basically confirmed that the vast majority of Americans don't know what a blog is, don't have any interest in blogging, don't read news on the internet, etc.

  • dhex||

    grotius - perhaps they're thinking of accuracy on a sliding scale? internet polls are inaccurate, but when someone they don't like is gaming them, they're super duper inaccurate?

    also, i mean LGF. its the best they can do.

  • ||

    PL,

    Dean was sitting governor of VT. The fact is, governors are more credible presidential candidates than Senators, who are more credible candidates than Reps. It seems Paul is getting about the same amount of MSM love as Kucinich did in 2004.

  • ||

    Pro Libertate,

    What made Dean notable was not his placement in internet polls, but that he was getting tons of on-line campaign donations from non-traditional donors.

  • ||

    Last weekend I was hanging out with my dad and he asked me what I thought about the various candidates. He's a reasonably politically savvy guy who reads the Times every day like it was a religious requirement. I told him I'm not sure I can stand to vote for any of them, but am most intrigued by Ron Paul and Bill Richardson.

    He didn't know who either of them were.

    Sigh.

  • Edward||

    Lamar

    Ever had a pimple on your ass alter your gate?

  • Grotius||

    dhex,

    I wonder if they are going for "accuracy" within their particular "community." Given that LGF requires registration and that it is only open for brief periods that seems like a distinct possibility.

  • Bhh||

    It's going to be the Hildabeast or Jefe Maximo Rudofo so might as well have a little fun between now and then.

  • Grotius||

    I'm surprised that we haven't had any LGF traffic yet.

  • ||

    I merely meant that Dean and Paul are analogous situations, not identical. I tend to view governors as more credible candidates, myself, especially as far as actual electoral performance goes. Which is why Richardson will win the Democratic nomination. And handily. And he'll win the White House if any senators win the GOP nomination.

  • ||

    Ever had a pimple on your ass alter your gate?

    It's not gait-altering if it's on the cheek, but if it's in the crease - that's a whole 'nother story.

  • Grotius||

    Pro Libertate,

    So, do you vote?

  • ||

    Decades before the internet, big city papers like the New York Daily News would print a straw vote ballot and invite the readers to participate. If the candidates had deep pockets, their campaigns would buy stacks of papers and have the volunteers mail in the ballots. They, and those less flush, would also urge their supporters to do the same. These straw polls weren't scientific, and internet "polls" should be likened to them, not to opinion surveys with a decent-sized sample that closely mirrors the electorate.

    That a libertarian does well among the wired or wireless crowd doesn't surprise. It would be news if he didn't. The early adapters and geeks don't track well with probable Republican Primary voters, though.

    Kevin

  • ||

    Interesting prediction Pro Lib, but what happens when Mitt Romney becomes the Republican Nominee (which he will, you know, because he has an excellent voice, is tall, has all of his hair, it's the right color, and looks like he'd be a good "father")

  • ||

    Damn, I had forgotten what a hateful puke jf is .

  • highnumber||

    Damn, I had forgotten what a hateful puke Eric Atkinson is .

  • ||

    Grotius,

    Yes, I do. At the moment, I plan to vote for Paul in the primaries (Florida requires that voters be registered, like firearms, so I've stuck with the GOP to be able to vote in the primaries). I'll probably vote LP yet again in the general election, barring some scenario where I feel I need to throw my vote one way or the other with the major parties. Or, of course, if Paul wins the nomination because of some plane crash or something.

    Reinmoose,

    If it's between Romney and Richardson, Richardson wins. He's not Mormon and has better taste in his science fiction novels. We're a simple people, really.

  • edna||

    i objected to lgf's actions regarding paul several times in their comments section. charles johnson responded each time, disagreed with me firmly but politely, and didn't delete my posts. some of the other commentators were, shall we say, less classy. my point made, i bowed out quietly.

    this blog war stuff is terribly boring.

  • Grotius||

    Eric,

    Who is jf?

  • ||

    Stuffing the ballot box in online polls that have anything to do with politics is nothing new.

    Do they have a large and immediate effect? Not really. Probably the best outcome is that it simply denies the MSM one small weapon in their arsenal.

    They can no longer claim that "A poll conducted by FOXBCNN shows that Giuliani is preferred by those who read our website."

    Interestingly enough, even though stuffing the box on these kind of polls happens every single day, this is the first time that I've seen the MSM outlets (and others) get openly upset about it, which tells me that RP is having an effect despite the attempts to marginalize him.

    That said, I do think that the RP internet phenomenon will turn out to be the political equivalent of [i]Snakes on a Plane[/i].

  • ||

    Edward:

    Though admittedly metaphorical, I usually am the pimple on your ass.

  • Dave W.||

    For full-bore existential terror The Fall have it all over Joy Division.

    The Fall is the best band ever. No other band comes close. It is a pity more people don't realize this. It is almost enough to shake my faith in free markets.

  • Dave W.||

    Oh, yeah -- this thd is supposed to be about online polls. Here is a Fall-related online poll I started a couple days ago:

    http://z1.invisionfree.com/forums/thefall/index.php?showtopic=16396

    Go vote!

  • ||

    Grotius,

    You didn't need to be registered to vote.

    jf,

    Why do you call LGF hateful? 99% of the posts there boil down to "Here's the latest evil or stupid goddamn thing radical Muslims did today." if pointing that out is hateful, then hateful's been severly downgraded.

  • ||

    jesse:

    I have to say I respect your commitment to the real world here. The sudden love affair libertarians have with polling when it gives them (us) any sort of positive looking result is just sad.

    Even if you are a movement libertarian, you have to use your resources wisely. Chasing ghosts isn't wise.

  • Edward||

    "Though admittedly metaphorical, I usually am the pimple on your ass." -- Lamar


    You make my point: I've never noticed you. Ron Paul's like that. Except for libertarian zealots, nobody notices him.

  • Derrick||

    For full-bore existential terror The Fall have it all over Joy Division.

    Try Schloss Tegal :-)

  • Thomas Stevens||

    And then we're gonna go all the way to the White House---YAHHHHH!

    What Ron Paul needs right now is a way of getting negative information about other candidates out there. I don't mean smear stuff, I just mean hoisting them by their own petards; that is, accurately presenting their views, and why they're bad for America.

    For instance, Rudy Guiliani didn't even break 1100 on his SATs. LAWLZ.

  • ||

    Edward: You've never noticed me? I'm shocked.

    I think what you're saying is that, except for an enthusiastic internet following, Mr. Paul isn't as widely accepted as the big government candidates. We all agree on that. Sure, it would have been nice if Paul snapped back, "with all due respect Mr. Mayor, you don't own 9/11. Without 9/11, you're just a mayor who's second in the hearts of NYers to Mr. Bloomberg."

  • ||

    PMD = Lamar

  • Jesse Walker||

    Ron Paul's like that. Except for libertarian zealots, nobody notices him.

    So does that make you a libertarian zealot?

  • ||

    EPMD = Funky fresh

  • ||

    These polls can be explained quite simply, without resorting to accusations of cheating or gaming the system. Ron Paul is winning these self-selected polls because Ron Paul has supporters. All the other candidates have is name recognition.

    Think about it. Name recognition is enough to win you a offline random sampling poll, but it won't win you an online self-selected poll. You need excitement in your base to do that. Why do none of the other candidates have excitement? That's the real story!

    Ron Paul has no chance of winning the nomination, but the excitement he is generating is finally getting his message delivered!

  • ed\'s alternate universe||

    Internet polling doesn't measure enthusiam - it measures meaninglessness.... To do well in an internet poll is to find out that you have the most losers for followers.

    Same concept applies to backwoods music sites, where people you have never heard of are chart-topping stars; and better-known sites where millions of eyeballs view trite cat videos. It's an alternate universe that we all participate in. Take Hit & Run, for example...

  • ||


    The Fall is the best band ever. No other band comes close. It is a pity more people don't realize this. It is almost enough to shake my faith in free markets.

    Full agreeance-ah!

  • ||

    Even if you are a movement libertarian, you have to use your resources wisely.


    So as a movement libertarian, who else in the GOP slate should I vote for? Guiliani? Hah!

  • ||

    "Howard Dean having a bunch of basement-dwellers supporting his campaign was major news that had legs for quite some time. Ron Paul having the same is not."

    But Dean (before Iowa) did reasonably well in "scientific" polls, which Paul is not doing. If Paul were to do as well in Gallup, etc. polls of Republicans as Dean did with such polls of Democrats in 2003, he would get plenty of attention.

    (Of course you may say that the fact that Dean lost in Iowa shows that "scientific" polls are almost as worthless as online ones, but IIRC Dean did at least get a respectable percentage of the vote in Iowa. It was only after the "scream" that he became a joke.)

  • ||

    "For full-bore existential terror The Fall have it all over Joy Division."

    I love the Fall, but they are a happy party band.

    How about this...from Godspeed you Black Emperor...

    "The car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel
    And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
    And a dark wind blows
    The government is corrupt
    And we're on so many drugs
    With the radio on and the curtains drawn

    We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
    And the machine is bleeding to death"

    It's like a libertarian anthem

  • John Rhoads||

    I'm certainly not going to complain if Ron Paul ends up the Republican Party chairman at the end of all this. :) Talk about things that will never happen.

  • Neu Mejican||

    To here that GSYBE song...

    http://www.archive.org/details/gybe1998-12-17.flac16

    Dead Flag Blues

  • Thrall||

    ERR, You do realize you can vote once on a cell phone, correct?

    Sign the petition to keep him in debates: http://www.petitiononline.com/RPRNC08/petition.html

  • ||

    Damn. What about this part of his statement:

    "Even if they weren't doing this pathetic maneuver to artificially pump up Paul's support, I'd very seriously consider removing him anyway, because I found his remarks last night about 9/11 insulting and dangerous, and highly offensive. But make no mistake, he's not being removed simply because I disagree with him..."

    He all but admits he was looking for any excuse to exclude Paul. Leading me to *seriously* question that he didn't remove Paul "simply because (he) disagree(d) with him." What a pathetic asshole.

  • ||

    Ron Paul is the greatest statesman in at least two hundred years. I wish him all the best. I'll gladly click a mouse, punch a chad, and pull a lever on his behalf.

  • Dave W.||

    I love the Fall, but they are a happy party band.

    All the English groups
    Act like peasants with free milk
    On a route
    On a route to the loot
    To candy mountain
    Five wacky English proletariat idiots
    Californians always think of sex
    Or think of death
    Five hundred girl deaths
    A Mexico revenge, it's stolen land
    They really get it off on
    "Don't hurt me please"
    Rapist fill the TVs
    And the secret of their lives
    Is S.E.X..

    - The Fall 1980

  • Fluffy||

    Frankly, any blog where registration is closed is run by pussies anyway.

    Having a fainting spell because the wrong candidate is winning your online poll just makes you even more pathetic.

    The most amazing thing is that LGF sells advertising. The reason you add interactive features [like an online poll] to an ad-driven site is to drive clicks. These chickenshits actually got ANGRY that third parties were marketing their site for them and driving traffic to them to use an interactive feature of their site. Ay carumba.

  • ||

    I love the Fall, but they are a happy party band.

    Wireless enthusiast intercepts government secret radio band and
    uncovers secrets and scandals of deceitful type proportions.

    Aghast goes next door to his neighbor, secretly excited, as
    aforementioned was a hunter whom radio enthusiast wanted
    friendship and favor of.

    A new face in hell

    Nearly a new face in hell!

    A muscular, thick-skinned, slit-eyed neighbor is at the table
    poisoned just thirty seconds before by parties who knew of
    wireless operator's forthcoming revelation.

    A new face in hell!

    A prickly line of sweat covers enthusiast's forehead as the
    realization hits him that the same government him and his now
    dead neighbor voted for and backed and talked of on cream porches
    have tricked him into their war against the people who enthusiast
    and dead hunter would have wished torture on. A servant of
    government walks in and arrests wireless fan in
    kitchen for murder of his neighbor
    A new face in hell!

    The dead cannot contradict
    Sometimes the living cannot

    A new face in hell!

    - The Fall 1980

  • ||

    R, Totale,

    But they put that all to such an infectious uplifting beat...


    signed NM
    -Fall Fan since 1980-

  • MattXIV||

    What Internet Polls Are Good For



    This is what internet polls are good for.

    Same concept applies to backwoods music sites, where people you have never heard of are chart-topping stars; and better-known sites where millions of eyeballs view trite cat videos. It's an alternate universe that we all participate in. Take Hit & Run, for example...



    You mean there are people who aren't libertarian Fall fans?

  • ||

    You mean there are people who aren't libertarian Fall fans?

    That's crazy talk.

  • Asharak||

    Why do you call LGF hateful? 99% of the posts there boil down to "Here's the latest evil or stupid goddamn thing radical Muslims did today." if pointing that out is hateful, then hateful's been severly downgraded.

    Yes, they do that, and they also post racist comments about Arabs.

    And last month, Johnson and his fellow Lizards accused Hit & Run posters and libertarians in general of not only being closet leftists, but also traitors, terrorist sympathizers, anti-Semites, pedophiles and supporters of bestiality (and all this because they had the temerity to disagree with something Johnson wrote).

  • ||

    And last month, Johnson and his fellow Lizards accused Hit & Run posters and libertarians in general of not only being closet leftists, but also traitors, terrorist sympathizers, anti-Semites, pedophiles and supporters of bestiality

    That's bullshit. I'm not a, uh, what was the middle one again?

  • ||

    "But you can expect him to be a thorn in the side of the big-government candidates for a long time yet."

    Is there a better, more principled reason to be a polictian? Ron Paul is da man!

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