According To MSNBC, If Online Voters Support Ron Paul, Their Votes Count Less

from the msnbc:-bad-at-math dept

First thing’s first: let’s face up to the fact that online polls (especially on political issues) are pretty close to meaningless. However, Jamey Fletcher points us to a rather amazing graphical mess perpetrated by MSNBC in response to Ron Paul supporters flooding the vote for its online poll concerning who won the recent dog & pony show debate among a bunch of Republican presidential wannabes. Here’s the screenshot he took, and the live poll certainly looks similar to me right now as well (though, at last check, Paul has an even larger percentage of the vote):

Now, as Jon Stewart has pointed out, the mainstream press loves to ignore Ron Paul. But math is math. 50% is not just a nudge above 17%… and yet that’s what the graphic appears to show. In fact, on Jamey’s screen the top two bars are 368 pixels and 244 pixels. That’s a very different ratio than 50% to 17%.

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Comments on “According To MSNBC, If Online Voters Support Ron Paul, Their Votes Count Less”

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pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Or it could be that Ron Paul is OK with denying access to the emergency room for children.

Seriously Ron Paul has ZERO chance of being elected and is rightfully ignored. Now, talking about why the GOP/libertarian faithful continue to vote for him anyway in polls is fair game, but his candidacy is not a serious one and never has been.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m no Ron Paul voter, but there is something wrong with a process that systematically pre-empts a candidate as “not a serious contender”. It’s especially scary when that candidate does well in polls, debates, and in Ames.

Last time I studied Greek history, grooming the field of options was not the foundation of Democracy.

“Ron Paul has ZERO chance of being elected and is rightfully ignored”

All due respect, but I don’t want you, nor Roger Ailes, nor some other boneheaded news director telling me who is, and who isn’t viable.

Angela Renee says:

Online polls

I have heard that Ron Paul shares some of his largest support from young voters, many in college, and from much of the military. I understand at times there is a descrepency if multiple voting is occurring when a single ip address yields many votes. In many cases, a single ip address is only allowed ONE VoTE, making it nearly impossible to avoid multiple counts. The problem I see, is what happens when a college campus or military barracks shares a single ip address, like most do? Will they not get a chance to voice their opinion of their desired canidate? Considering there are thousands of campuses nationwide, this may be missing a huge demographic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But the fact that Americans are being robbed by the media of making an unbiased and properly informed choice about the merits of Ron Paul as a presidential candidate is standard procedure”

fixed that for you. at least they let him in this poll.

Being a netizen = second class voter. Didn’t anyone tell you? hell, any cyberstoner could have explained that one. We’re all a bunch of crazy kids, overvoting to upset the scales of democracy on our stupid little issues that no one wants to hear about.

A commenter on obama’s last town hall put it best: “Oh look, those crazy stoners are at it again, hahaha! ….no seriously F*** you.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s still possibly a css error.

For example it’s coded that 1% of the vote = certain width, but then there’s a maximum possible length on the bar. The expected result was that the winner would probably be about 30% or so given the large # of options, but Ron Paul at 50% has far surpassed that and is hitting up against the max width the bar can handle.

The better way to do it though is to have the high % be a full bar and proportion everything else based off that.

blaktron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The only way that this would be true, looking at the proportions, is if the limit was ~20%, which is stupid. Also, that would be a really stupid way of coding the graph, and unnecessarily complex. Its easy just to convert votes to a %, then measure X pixels for Y % of the vote…

Remember, even if it capped out graphically at 30%, Ron Paul would still have a graph ~180% the size of Romneys….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Its easy just to convert votes to a %, then measure X pixels for Y % of the vote…”

That’s the way that runs into trouble and is what I described. If 1% = X pixels then someone with a huge % would have a very long bar which might break formatting. So you put a max width on the bar. Then Ron Paul gets 60% of the votes and is capped by the max width.

If Ron Paul’s bar was accurate and 1% = the # of pixels it does now, then it’d be pushing out the articles width pretty significantly.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Oi, AC, you beat me to it! (I would have published sooner but I got side-tracked perusing Wikipedia about other razors. That’s my excuse and I sticking with it.)

While you’re making corrections, Mike, lose the gratuitous apostrophe from “things”. <== punctuation Nazi here (no, humorously referring to myself as a punctuation Nazi does not invoke Godwin’s law ๐Ÿ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So easy

Say the max width of the graph is 250px.

Take the poll option that “won” and make its bar 250px long, regardless of how much it won by, its actual value, etc.

Take each poll option that didn’t “win” and make it proportional to the winning bar by percentage:

50.8% = 250px (winner)
17 = 84px ((17/50.8)*250)
14.1 = 69px ((14.1/50.8)*250)

etc etc etc

perlfreak says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I checked the code, and Ron Paul’s value is maxed at 100%. Meaning, that bar is as far as it goes.

Based on what I’m seeing in terms of the width %’s of the bars, and the actual %’s, it’s maxed at 50%.

However, the current graph has a much bigger difference than the original, which would suggest it was probably much lower before.

So yeah, crappy code is atleast part of it. However, such polls are extremely easy to make, and it’s very easy math to make the top vote always 100% and the bottom votes proportionate to it. It’s almost kind of neglate to have the code so bad, although one could say it’s not really that important overall.

-Ron Paul supporter more worried about false misrepresentation of issues than the length on bar charts. They show the %’s, that’s good enough for me.

theDude says:

Re: Re:

I agree, if anything MSNBC should want to be biased for Ron Paul. When he asked the crowd how many of them would use heroine tomorrow if it were legal, you could literally see very small minds blowing. Ron Paul is really the only conservative left in American politics (in the true Goldwater/Buckley sense). What is called conservative today is some horrible big government monster tied to christian whack-ism and representing corporate interests. The more exposure Ron Paul gets the more the republican party members should be able to see what they are being sold now (and over the last 10 or 15 years), has nothing to do with small government or conservatism.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s not bias. Rather, it is an attempt to show the vast majority of the data within scale, and still make it meaningful. When you have a run away single data point (The Ron Paul “vote”), it would make the rest of the points seem all very similar.

If the graph was presented with Ron Paul 50% as is, the lower 3 or 4 items would be indistinguishable one from the other.

Anonymous Coward says:

I make charts for a living and am not a Paul supporter.

If I were making the chart with one bar so much bigger than the others, I’d opt for a broken axis. It would look the same scalewise as what MSNBC is showing, but it would be more obvious that the Paul value was substantially greater than the others. Putting the actual percentages on the bars helps, but for the numbers-challenged, it is misleading.

This is kind of chart making 101…but what do I know, I’m just a data monkey.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem with online voting on topics surrounding Ron Paul is that he has built up a cult of personality based on the fact that he is uncompromising and publically against social works and general welfare. With someone so extreme that means his cult will go to extreme lengths to make him out to be the second coming of Jesus. The polls end up becoming a Ron Paul sausage fest because of the cults influence.

The sort of psuedo-intellectual cultism fosters that kind of extremism that would do petty things like overload polls with Ron Paul.

Angry Puppy (profile) says:

Ron Paul is Ignored by the Media

The obvious snubbing of Ron Paul by the media and the Republicans makes an interesting study of both subtle and overt manipulation of the voting process. Hopefully this will wake up the public and create a more open system but I think that the average person is too concerned with the mostly manufactured crises of jobs and house prices to worry which corporate lackey becomes the new front man.

I do not agree with all of Paul’s policies and I’m not certain if I would vote for him. However, he is the only candidate that ever makes clear and plain sense and doesn’t spew partisan rhetoric.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Ron Paul is Ignored by the Media

Not to suggest I’ll sway your opinion, but you should also look into Greg Johnson. I believe he’s advocated even *less* than Paul and his policies make as much sense. If you had those two running together, you would really have a great Republican ticket that doesn’t read like it’s clamoring for Big Business dollars.

Simple Mind (profile) says:

They keep drawing attention

Ron Paul is the people’s candidate. If they don’t put him on the ballot, write his name in! Or you can continue to be a slave to your corporate masters and see everything continue to go to shit. Paul is our only chance to even begin to get out of the economic and power corruption mess we are in. He is getting old. This may be our last chance. Don’t miss it.

Mike42 (profile) says:

I listen to NPR a lot, and just about the only time I hear Ron Paul’s name is on the Diane Rehm show, and they are generally remarking how the media is ignoring him.
It was very strange, listening to several Republican analysts talking about the Straw Poll and completely ignoring the #2 guy.
I disagree with 90% of what Ron Paul has to say, but this is ridiculous.

Nicholas Alexander (profile) says:

American Republicans

It is weird – if I were American I would either be backing the Democrats, or would vote Ron Paul, the most conservative Republican, even if the Tea Party think they love him, I think he does not share their world view.

If I were American, I would vote Democrat, or Ron Paul. Most of what Ron Paul says makes a lot of sense and could improve America powerfully. The Tea Party and both their candidates will reverse progress and inflict their religious values by shaming opposition and distorting truth through the eyes of the ultra privileged.

I am interested in opinion about Ron Paul vs Obama which would at least be a clear choice, and agree this graph is “normalised against media expectation” which although very inaccurate does reflect a rather large margin for error in the poll.

theDude says:

Re: Terminology

I disagree completely. There is no establishment conspiracy in the media, they are simply interested in “selling tampons”, advertising dollars, asses in seats, listeners, viewers, readers. They give the public what they believe it wants, nothing more nothing less. I don’t believe Rupert Murdoch is any more conservative then George Soros for example. However he did see the publishing and media growth potential, especially when aligned with the christian groups of that neo-con market. So he hired a person expert at reaching those people to run fox news. He then used that outlet to push books and authors through his various other publishing outlets. The “politics” of fox news mean nothing to him or the share holders of newscorp, its ability to reach and keep that audience and provide them for exploitation through other outlets, thats whats important. Fox News has the slant it has becuase its management believes thats what its viewers want. The same is true for the rest of them.

Ron Lawl says:

I have to go with coding error. The graph is generated automatically based on the numbers given.

In order to claim a conspiracy, we would have to believe that the following things are true: 1) That the original graph displayed normally, showing Ron Paul with a massive lead. 2) That someone at MSNBC actually cared about an online graph. 3) That MSNBC was then willing to change the graph just to minimize Ron Paul’s results. Not the graph itself (which would constantly be updated), but the underlying code.

This sounds very far fetched to me. The more plausible explanation is formatting error that has trouble mapping the difference between 1% and 50% to proper scale.

MaxEd (user link) says:


In an interesting similarity between our countries, we in Russia also have a radically different politician who’s always in the running since 1992, but never got a real chance. He also have a small, but very vocal fanbase and if you read his plans for presidency, they completely remake country into something different.

Common attitude is that “it would be cool to elect him, just to see what happens, but only if there is a save/load feature for reality”. I think the same is true about Ron Paul ๐Ÿ™‚ I, as a citizen of different country, would love to see him as the next American Top Guy, but if I lived in USA, I would probably never vote for him.

Anonymous Coward says:

For a site called “techdirt”, there isn’t much “tech” going on here.

One look at the chart pretty much tells the story: They have a limited amount of space, the programmer likely expected results similar to the general polling, and assumed nobody would poll much better than about 25%. The layout of the graphic is bar + numbers, side by side. The space for the numbers is fixed minimum, the space for the bar is variable based on it’s length, and is limited mostly by the size of the numbers area.

It also looks like they used some adjustment factor to make sure there was enough resolution at the low end, where they expected most of the candidate to poll. Removing the Ron Paul 50% result, and allowing the charge to adjust with no result larger than 25 would likely make it look much better.

Technically, you can look at it and see what happened, it’s not hard.

There is no conspiracy against Ron Paul. If anything, there would appear to be a conspiracy from Ron Paul supporters to bomb every poll possible to make it look like more people support Ron than really do.

I do find it interesting that Mike has finally made his political leanings clear. If the name with 50% was Sarah Palin, I doubt this would even get posted here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“For a site called “techdirt”, there isn’t much “tech” going on here.”

so this isn’t a tech story, right:

“One look at the chart pretty much tells the story: They have a limited amount of space, the programmer likely expected results similar to the general polling, and assumed nobody would poll much better than about 25%”

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