November 13, 2000
Salon.com, CNN and AP Charts Comparing Buchanan Votes in Palm Beach County to Votes in Other Florida Counties Are Misleading, Argues Independent Institute Economist
OAKLAND, Calif. Were the 3,407 votes received by Patrick Buchanan in Palm Beach County, Florida, unusually high?
I dont think we have 3,000 Nazis in Palm Beach County, said Palm Beach County Commissioner Bert Aaronson, referring to the Buchanan votes, as reported by Salon.com.
At the websites of Salon.com and CNN, and appearing in newspapers across the country courtesy of the Associated Press, charts (like Chart One shown below) suggest that the votes Buchanan received in Palm Beach County were unusually large relative to other Florida counties.
But Palm Beach County is an unusually large county. Buchanan received a lot of votes in Palm Beach County because there are a lot of voters in Palm Beach County, says economist Dr. Alexander Tabarrok, research director for The Independent Institute.
When votes cast for Buchanan are calculated as a percentage of votes cast for all presidential candidates, the results in Palm Beach County do not appear unusual.
The percentage of votes received by Pat Buchanan from voters in Palm Beach County is consistent with his overall performance in Florida, says Tabarrok.
Buchanan received 0.78 percent of the vote in Palm Beach County. By comparison, he received an average of 0.46 percent of the vote in the other Florida counties. (See accompanying charts.) Although Buchanan received a larger share in Palm Beach County than in the average Florida county he performed even better in some other counties, such as Calhoun, where voting errors are not alleged to have occurred. Buchanans Palm Beach share of the vote did not depart significantly from the average.
It is quite possible that a more comprehensive statistical analysis taking into account demographic or other factors could show that Buchanans vote in Palm Beach was unusual. The graph used by CNN, Salon.com, the Associated Press, and many others, however, is a superb example of How to Lie with Statistics.
I am shocked and concerned that reputable news organizations would present data in such a misleading and naïve manner, especially given the importance of clear thinking at this time, said Tabarrok.
The Independent Institute (www.independent.org) is a non-profit, non-politicized, scholarly public policy research and education organization headquartered in Oakland, CA.