Friday, February 17, 2012

South Carolina GOP primary - questions raised

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the recent party elections in Russia. Because Putin's ruling Russia United party appeared to fare particularly well in precincts with high voter turnout, 100,000 Russians marched against Putin over the controversy.

Could something similar be happening in the GOP primaries and caucuses right here in America? Surely not ... right?!

Yesterday (Feb 17), I ran across a posting at Daily Paul, which as a disclaimer is run by Ron Paul supporters. The poster suggested that something similar to what was seen in Putin's Russia may have happened in the South Carolina GOP primary last month. This person had been studying the Greenville County precinct-level election data (available here) and found something rather unusual: "Ron Paul averaged 24% in precincts where less than 250 people voted; he averaged less than 12 percent in precincts with more than 800." Dr. Paul would have captured about 20% of the Greenville County vote based on the smallest 35 precincts but ended up with only 17.2%. The opposite trend was seen when looking at Mr. Romney's vote; that is, he fared much better on a percentage basis in the larger precincts than in the smaller ones. The poster suggested that it is possible that someone could have taken votes from Dr. Paul and given those votes to Mr. Romney, possibly accomplished via manipulation of the software installed on the voting machines.

This study, which I found very interesting, raised a number of questions in my mind, and I think I know what the questions are. I also think I know in what order they must be answered:
  1. Is there convincing empirical evidence, backed up by sound statistical reasoning, that Mr. Romney's percentage of the vote in a precinct is directly proportional to that precinct's size (One could ask a similar question regarding Dr. Paul)? This question must obviously be asked of statewide results and not just in South Carolina. This is the topic of my next post.
  2. If the answer to #1 is an irrefutable "Yes," then is there a mechanism (other than election fraud) which can sufficiently explain these effects? It has been suggested that, because older voters tend to favor Mr. Romney over Dr. Paul, these voters may also live in disproportionately larger precincts. Another possible explanation is that smaller precincts are more rural and thus Dr. Paul may poll better in rural areas. I would submit that it will be very difficult to show that the answer to this question is clearly "No."
  3. However, if the answer to #2 is "No," and we have truly exhausted all other possible explanations for this phenomenon, it is at this point that we must consider jumping down the rabbit hole to explore worlds unknown. I sincerely hope that this line of questioning will not lead me to be asking questions such as, "Who is that man behind the curtain?"
I am concerned that definitively answering the first question above may take several weeks, but I will pursue it until I am certain of the answer.

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