Front Page
State & Local
World & Nation
AP News
Contact Us
09/27/00 nader.C.Thalken

  Volume 101, No. 18   Wednesday, September 27, 2000  

'Unlikely voters' could decide election

If everyone were included in the polls, third-party candidates would show in the race

By Travis Metcalfe
Daily Texan Columnist

If Bush and Gore make you wanna Ralph [Nader], you're definitely not alone, in spite of what recent polls would lead you to believe. If you've been following the polls at all, you know that support for third-party candidates seems to have waned in recent weeks with Green party candidate Ralph Nader down to about 3 percent from a high near 9 percent earlier this summer, and Reform party candidate Pat Buchanan barely registering.

There's actually a very good reason why the polls show Nader and other third-party candidates far behind their mainstream competitors: The Gallup polls are intentionally biased to reflect only the preferences of people deemed to be 'likely voters.' If this election were like any other in the recent past, these biased polls might actually be able to predict the outcome. But if significant numbers of 'unlikely voters' turn up in November, as many third-party candidates believe, anything is possible.

If you've paid close attention, you've probably noticed that the polls most often cited, conducted by the Gallup Organization, quote the results of surveys of 'likely voters.' This immediately makes you wonder: how do they define 'likely voter'? Gallup explains on their Web site that "older and better-educated individuals are, in general, more likely to vote than younger and less well educated individuals."

To compensate for this trend, the Gallup poll asks "a series of questions that provide a good prediction of the probability that an individual will end up voting." One of these questions asks whether or not the individual voted in the past election. If your answer is no, then you are assigned a lower probability and creep toward the 'unlikely' category. But wait a minute anyone younger than 22 was not old enough to vote in the last presidential election, so everyone in this age group will answer "no" to this question. This matters because Gallup excludes half of the survey participants, judged 'unlikely voters' for having a below-average probability of voting. They do this to approximate the 50 percent turnout that is typical of a presidential election, but it results in a systematic bias against young people.

Although we may feel indignant about it, this strategy seems fairly reasonable if Gallup believes that voter turnout in this election will be basically the same as it has been in previous elections. But the resulting polls fail to reveal the broader public sentiment towards the candidates, including the views of both 'likely' and 'unlikely voters,' who may be more likely to vote in this election given that there are significant third-party alternatives this time.

Fortunately, another poll has been brewing less scientific results from the nation's largest convenience retailer: 7-Eleven. The "7-Election" campaign, featured prominently on the 7-Eleven Web site, is "designed to bring attention to the upcoming presidential election ... through the sales of hot beverages in special 20-ounce Bush, Gore or Third Party/No Opinion coffee cups." More than 5,000 stores across the country are participating by keeping track of how many beverages are sold daily in each of the three special cups. The Web site is updated every two days. So far the national results show Bush at 22 percent, Gore at 21 percent, and Third Party/No Opinion with 58 percent of sales. The numbers are basically the same for the 285 stores in Texas, and the 41 stores in Austin alone. But in the state of Vermont, the Third Party/No Opinion cups command 84 percent of total sales!

The point is that when you include everyone in the polls even the young people who didn't vote four years ago, and the disenchanted who never had a compelling reason to vote before you get a remarkably different picture. It no longer looks like a close race between the two mainstream parties; it looks like a landslide victory for Third Party/No Opinion. And if enough of those people register to vote, go to the ballot box and vote their conscience on election day, this country could be much better off four years from now.

Metcalfe is a doctoral student in the Department of Astronomy