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Premature Evaluation: Or, Why Internet Polls Aren’t Worth the Paper They Aren’t Even Printed On

Updated: Apr 13

As a State Senate candidate, I’ve recently been the subject of a couple of “Internet polls,” in which website visitors are asked to vote for rival candidates. Even to discuss an Internet poll probably grants it too much importance, because there is no relation between actual voter behavior and an Internet poll.

After all, these were polls in which people from outside my district and minors could vote; perhaps more relevantly, someone technologically sophisticated types (which excludes me) might be able to vote multiple times from the same computer — not exactly a scientific gauge of public opinion.

Let’s look more closely at one of these polls. About a month ago, Whit Jones, proprietor of the news site, polled his readers about the 2010 Senate race in District 22, which included me, my GOP primary opponent Jeremy Hutchinson and Democratic Rep. Dawn Creekmore. When I heard about this poll, I decided to vote once and then focus on more important things in my life: that is, everything else in the universe.

Regrettably, a supporter of mine soon brought to my attention that Hutchinson was accusing me of “robo-voting” in the poll. (Hutchinson made the same accusation in the previous Internet poll that he and I were subjected to; I assume “robo-voting” has something to do with using a computer program that repeatedly casts votes.) I immediately checked the poll, looking forward to an incredibly lopsided vote total in my favor.

Regrettably, Hutchinson’s bizarre (and false) accusation was apparently based on the fact that, at the time he sent out this claim in an e-mail to his supporters, he had received 42 votes and I had received 61 votes on the website. I pity anyone who sees electronic skullduggery as the only possible culprit here. It’s got to be rough to be the guy who thinks being legitimately behind by 19 votes is incomprehensible.

Hutchinson followed his claim of “robo-voting” with a pronunciamento: that he lacked the time or knowledge to do what his opponents were doing. Perhaps he was just being modest: mysteriously, the next time I checked the Internet poll a day or two later, Hutchinson had multiplied his vote total by a factor of approximately 15, as had Creekmore, while my votes had merely doubled. These odd results made me wonder about whether the poll results had any relation to the real world.

It turned out that I wasn’t the only one wondering. Just after my votes numbered about 150 and both Hutchinson’s and Creekmore’s topped 600, Whit Jones sent all of us an e-mail that read in part:

Wanted to let you guys know I’ve taken the Senate Web poll off the site immediately and I apologize for the obvious manipulation of the poll by supporters of your respective campaigns.The company that hosts the site had assured me that safeguards were in place to prevent abuse with polls. Obviously, the safeguards are not in place. For that, I apologize.At the same time, I am very disappointed that the honor system doesn’t exist and that we cannot conduct a poll that is representative and reflects integrity. People associated with all three campaigns are guilty of manipulating the poll, although IP addresses indicate that two camps were especially abusive.

Jones followed up with another e-mail to the effect that he was considering hosting another Internet poll about the race, one that would not be vulnerable to abuse. I would guess there’s no such animal, having been the subject of two Internet polls that were both cancelled prematurely because there was so much abuse. I have no idea why so many people care so much about who wins American Idol, but clearly many do, and it looks like even that election is vulnerable to cheating via multiple voting despite safeguards. Anonymous Internet voting makes for easily stolen elections.

To echo our president: let me be clear. Internet polls have no relation to reality. Ignore them completely. Unless, of course, you want to cast your vote for me. It’s very important to pay no attention to these ridiculously inaccurate Internet polls. Unless I win. Vote early and vote often!

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