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No Exit: An Interview With Steven Freeman

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No Exit: An Interview With Steven Freeman

By GUERNICA, a magazine of art & politics

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Guernica / No Exit

If Barack Obama really plans to win the presidency, he had better be willing to back an independent exit poll, says Steven Freeman, professor of research methods at the University of Pennsylvania. Freeman argues that the 2004 election was stolen, and exit polls are the best way to guard against the same thing happening in 2008.

Co-author of Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count, Freeman is trying to raise money for such an effort this November. He contends that current exit polling is marred by a lack of transparency in the media consortium that controls it. And it’s not a just a matter of the Republicans fixing elections for Republicans. Freeman also believes this year’s Democratic primary in New Hampshire was stolen. “There’s overwhelming evidence that Obama won it, probably by double digits,” he says, although the official returns gave it to Hillary Clinton. Because he studies the data, not the story behind them, he would have no way of knowing whether Clinton stole the primary or whether Republicans scared of facing Obama rigged it in favor of Clinton, he explains. But he is without a doubt: the numbers don’t lie.

After a varied business career and a Ph.D. from MIT in 1998, Freeman began teaching research methods. He was never interested in politics. Election Day 2004 changed that. At a small social gathering, he was looking at exit polls on a computer while friends were watching returns on TV. He’d call out a state for Kerry, and his friends would call the same state for Bush. He walked away perplexed at how exit polls, which never vary by more than two or three percent from election returns, could have been so far off.

Comparing exit polls with election returns, Freeman found a discrepancy of 7 percent nationwide and 11 percent in Ohio. The divergence “cannot be explained by chance,” he writes in his book. Although Freeman does not speculate on how Republicans stole the election, he insists that the odds are longer than 100 million to one that Republicans played fair. In order to get closer to how the fraud was perpetrated, one would have to compare exit polls and returns within each precinct, but when Freeman asked the media consortium for those data, he was stonewalled, he says.

Mainstream media commentators were quick to dismiss the idea of election fraud as conspiracy theory. Yet Freeman says his statistical analysis has never been seriously challenged. Voices on the right have begun debunking exit polls as inaccurate, while the United States uses exit polls as evidence of fraud in the elections of other countries. “The irony is so extreme,” he says, pointing out that recent elections in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia and Peru have been overturned on the basis of exit polls. In November 2004, Colin Powell criticized Ukraine’s election as fraudulent based on exit poll discrepancies comparable to those that had taken place just weeks prior in the United States.

Some commentators wondered if Bush voters were less likely to respond to exit polls. But Freeman found evidence that in conservative precincts people were slightly more likely to participate in exit polls than in liberal precincts. While exit polling data perhaps offer the most compelling evidence of a stolen election, Freeman also cites demographics and voting patterns. Comparing how people voted in a given precinct in 2000 with how they voted there in 2004 offered striking contrasts. “It just doesn't hold,” he says. “It’s utterly inconsistent.”

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Guernica / No Exit

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