CNBC's Pulled Paul Poll

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As many readers already know, CNBC hosted on online poll asking its readers to rate the candidates’ performance in the Michigan GOP debate on October 9. That night I saw a blog post claiming that Ron Paul (as usual) was kicking keister, and so I clicked on the link to see the latest results. I was surprised (well, not really) to see that the URL no longer worked. The poll had been pulled.

Say what you will, at least the guy responsible, Allen Wastler, had the courage to admit that he gonged the operation precisely because Ron Paul was doing so well. Here is his full explanation:

An Open Letter to the Ron Paul Faithful

Editor’s Note:

Dear folks,

You guys are good. Real good. You are truly a force on World Wide Web and I tip my hat to you.

That’s based on my first hand experience of your work regarding our CNBC Republican candidate debate. After the debate, we put up a poll on our Web site asking who readers thought won the debate. You guys flooded it.

Now these Internet polls are admittedly unscientific and subject to hacking. In the end, they are really just a way to engage the reader and take a quick temperature reading of your audience. Nothing more and nothing less. The cyber equivalent of asking the room for a show of hands on a certain question.

So there was our after-debate poll. The numbers grew … 7,000-plus votes after a couple of hours … and Ron Paul was at 75%.

Now Paul is a fine gentleman with some substantial backing and, by the way, was a dynamic presence throughout the debate, but I haven’t seen him pull those kind of numbers in any “legit” poll. Our poll was either hacked or the target of a campaign. So we took the poll down.

The next day, our email basket was flooded with Ron Paul support messages. And the computer logs showed the poll had been hit with traffic from Ron Paul chat sites. I learned other Internet polls that night had been hit in similar fashion. Congratulations. You folks are obviously well-organized and feel strongly about your candidate and I can’t help but admire that.

But you also ruined the purpose of the poll. It was no longer an honest “show of hands” — it suddenly was a platform for beating the Ron Paul drum. That certainly wasn’t our intention and certainly doesn’t serve our readers … at least those who aren’t already in the Ron Paul camp.

Some of you Ron Paul fans take issue with my decision to take the poll down. Fine. When a well-organized and committed “few” can throw the results of a system meant to reflect the sentiments of “the many,” I get a little worried. I’d take it down again.

Sincerely,

Allen Wastler
Managing Editor, CNBC.com

Now most of what I’m going to say is obvious, but when something this asinine occurs, people need to state the obvious. So a few observations:

  • It seems that Wastler’s main objection is that the online poll became misleading, since it didn’t match up with the scientifically conducted random surveys. But why bother running the online poll at all, then? Why not just reproduce the results of these "legit" polls?

  • Wastler says the insidious Ron Paul fans hijacked the poll in order to use it as a platform "for beating the Ron Paul drum." But note that this drum beating consisted of nothing more than truthfully answering the question the poll asked. CNBC wanted the people visiting the page to say who won the debate, and that’s exactly what the Ron Paul visitors did. They didn’t somehow embed links to the Ron Paul campaign site. Let me put it this way: Suppose someone who honestly thought Ron Paul won the debate wanted to participate in the survey. How could this person have done otherwise than by "beating the Ron Paul drum"?

  • By all means, let’s explore this "show of hands" analogy. What Wastler is complaining about is that, in a giant conference room of 300 million people, a higher percentage of Ron Paul supporters raised their hands than did the supporters of the other candidates. So that when Wastler counted up the hands in the air, he got "phony" results. Well whose fault is that? Sure, if a Ron Paul fan raised both hands (the equivalent of hacking the CNBC poll and registering more than one vote per person), that would be cheating. But Ron Paul supporters aren’t to blame if the other candidates are so blah that their own proponents don’t bother voting for them.

  • This really gets to the heart of the matter. It’s not as if the CNBC poll was something new. Ron Paul has been winning online (and cell phone) polls for months. Rather than whining about how "unfair" this is, why don’t the other campaigns adopt similar tactics? Why don’t they set up websites pointing Giuliani, Romney, etc. supporters to these polls, to boost their candidates’ numbers? The answer, of course, isn’t that these other politicians are above such underhanded methods. Rather, the answer is that there are a lot more Ron Paul fans who are that dedicated to organizing and voting in such polls.

  • The most Kafkaesque portion in Wastler’s letter is when he objects that his poll was the subject of "a campaign." It gets even worse, Mr. Wastler. These Ron Paul freaks are actually stockpiling millions of dollars, and they’re going to spend them in…words fail me…a campaign, if you will, seeking to influence the democratic process in this country! They’re going to try to get their preferred man elected, even though general polls show him in the minority!

  • In all seriousness, Wastler’s letter made me realize with alarm that if Ron Paul does too well in the initial primaries, the rulers might try to throw out the results. A month ago I was just hoping that Ron Paul would come in at least third place, with at least 10 percent of the vote, in the first primary or two. But now I’m almost worried. Suppose he came in first place with 35 percent of the vote? And suppose thousands of those votes were cast by people who had just switched their party affiliation within the last few months? Would the establishment claim that this was "hijacking" of the GOP by liberal Democrats? I really think that the Ron Paul people should immediately get a statement on this issue, in writing, from the appropriate GOP people in the various states. In other words, have those people go on record before the results, saying that first-time primary voters (who have followed all of the rules) are perfectly legitimate.

It’s really going to be interesting if Ron Paul wins the first primary. His campaign right now is doing a fabulous job of making that a real possibility. I just hope they’re also looking into ways of defusing the possible routes through which the GOP will try to throw out the results. In this respect, Wastler’s decision, and holier than thou explanation, are a good case study.

Bob Murphy [send him mail] has a Ph.D. in economics from New York University, and is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism. He has a personal website at ConsultingByRPM.com

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